Beer is more than just a pale colored beverage in a glass. It can display a wide and vast range of colors, flavors, aromas and textures. Especially among craft beers, you would be hard pressed to find two beers whose construction came out to yield the exact same beer. All the different variables and procedures that go into crafting a beer make each one unique and special.
Understanding a beer’s anatomy can help you better define its structure, and how its flavors will affect you. See below for a full breakdown of a beer’s final construction and how it affects the flavor and experience you enjoy.
Body: The body of the beer is what we recognize as the alcoholic beverage we actually drink. It is the colored liquid that makes up the largest portion of a beer and contributes to the vast majority of its flavors and aromas. Its appearance can range greatly.
Head: The head of the beer is typically the smaller component and always rests on top of the beer. It is a foam ranging in colors, sizes and textures and does contribute to the beers overall aroma, and slightly to the beer’s flavor.
Glass: The glass is the receptacle that we are actually serving the beer in. While this may seem trivial, it actually plays a very large role in how the beer presents itself, and its flavors to you.
Aroma/Nose/Smell: The Aroma, also known as nose, or smell, is what you are able to sense by breathing in the flavors that are emanating off the beer. Depending on the glass the beer is served in, you should get your nose in as close to the head as possible and take one deep breath in with you nose and mouth open, then several smaller ones to best absorb all the aromas that may be present. The intensity of aroma will vary greatly, and its ability to predict the flavor of the beer also ranges. It is nonetheless a very potent part of sensory perception and will affect how the beer tastes to you.
Color/Look: The color, or look focuses on both the body of the beer and the head. What color is the body? It could be any range of colors and can be completely transparent to completely opaque – this too will give you a better understanding of how the final product will taste and feel in your mouth. The same goes with the head. Its color, density and ability to retain its structure will give you insight into the beers overall mouthfeel and texture.
Mouthfeel/Texture: The mouthfeel, or texture of the beer is a representation of how it actually feels in your mouth. Beers can range greatly from crisp and snappy, to smooth and creamy. Consider the way the carbonation feels – is it aggressive or subdued? How easily does the beer flow over your palate? Does it have an oil like consistency, or is it closer to water? All of these will affect the way the flavor is transfered to your palate, and the overall mouthfeel will contribute to your rendering of its enjoyment.
Taste/Flavor: The taste or flavor of the beer is of course everyone’s most prominent focus. However people do get lost here by aiming right at it and not taking a moment to discover how the taste has come together. The way all the individual sensory factors play together can create a very simple, or complex flavor. It can be extremely rich and potent, or very light. Sometimes a beer will attack you with a certain obvious flavor, but will have subtle smaller ones hiding in the background. Flavor really is the most important sensory component of beer, and as such it should not be taken lightly. Take a moment to absorb the beer, really try to break down the flavors that are seductively, or aggressively hiding within it. It will prove to you that beer does not just taste like beer, it can taste like every shade of the rainbow.
Finish: The finish is the final word for the beer and contributes greatly to how satisfying, refreshing, or quenching the beer may or may not be. It is a feeling that is left in your mouth when you have swallowed that sip of beer. Was the flavor still in your mouth when done? Maybe it was long and cloying, or short and crisp. How well does the flavor linger, or does it at all? Is it sweet or dry? Roasty or fruity? This will play directly off the flavor and mouthfeel of the beer and provide you with a final sensation that often has a great impact on how you enjoyed the overall experience.