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    The Beer Tasters Vocabulary (Part One)

    The Beer Tasters Vocabulary…


    When a group of people get together and discuss a particular topic that is common knowledge to all of them a sort of jargon develops. If you add a level of professionalism, the jargon becomes part of the conversation. For instance, if a professional chef says that his “line got slammed”, it does not mean that an audience thought his joke was not funny. It means the rest of the cooks in his kitchen had so many orders that they couldn't get them out on time. Of course, for a comedian, anything that has to do with the kitchen is probably a foreign language. But I digress...

    When I taste beer, I try and think of it as simply a carbonated beverage of a particular color, smells a particular way and has some flavors. If I do not think of it is beer, it makes it a lot easier to detect many of the flavors that are already there. If I think of it is beer I start looking for particular flavors such as roasted malt, or that bitter tang of a particular hop a particular brewer is known to use. If I clear my mind and palate sufficiently, it is often possible to discover flavors and taste sensations that would be missed if the label had been affixed to that particular beer. Starting with that mindset, I get ready to experience the first set of flavor sensations that beg to be named.

    The aromas are the first thing you're going to experience when you taste beer. A good deal of this comes from the aromas given off by the decomposition of the head, or crown of foam that floats on top of the beer. Each of these bubbles release aromas that can be sensed as the beer is poured. These aromas come particularly from the hops, and to a lesser degree from the type of malt used in the beer or ale. Exploring these aromas, the taster uses of the map of their particular past experiences. For instance, I have experienced icy cold winter evenings in the state of Vermont. I can tell you from that experience that the air has a slightly metallic taste to it. Perhaps it is the temperature, perhaps it is the lack of moisture in the air, but there is a particular metallic taste to frigid air when the temperature gets below a certain degree. I often find this metallic taste echoed in Cascade hops in particular. Other hops can impart a blackberry aroma, or the distinct aroma of grapefruit. So far, the association with fruit is helpful in understanding the aroma. However, many rustic beers, such as French farmhouse, and many of the Belgian beers, present less delicate aromas. The term "barnyard" aroma is often used. For those of an urban persuasion this word might not mean much. For those who have ever visited a working farm, the word takes on a homely dimension. Along this line, I've often heard critics of white wine, described that product as tastings slightly of "cat urine." I have experienced some wheat beers, exhibiting slightly "fecal" aromas. As for the cat image, I've always believed that the cat chases the mouse in the brewery.

    And this is just the beginning of our exploration of the vocabulary of the beer taster. I invite you to stay tuned over the next few weeks for further additions.

    Peter LaFrance.
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