Beer Tasting Tips - Judging Mouthfeel
The brain’s mental processes begin from the moment you begin to raise your glistening, golden brew to your lips. Olfactory receptors in your nose begin to drink in a complexity of aromas, while your tongue readies itself for an explosion of gustatory delight. The kinesthetic sense kicks in, adding to the sensual pleasures you are about to experience.
You may believe that mouthfeel has little to do with the sensations of flavor. Flavor, however, is the mind’s interpretation of aroma, taste and the sense of touch, also known as mouthfeel. Anyone who has an aversion to a particular food due to mouthfeel (raw oysters or jello are common examples) understands this association to flavor.
Mouthfeel is the activation of your sense of touch as it relates to the body in beer, and the associated feel and texture of the liquid within your mouth and throat. This profile is caused by the residual proteins and dextrins in beer – the result of how much malt sugar has been converted into sugar. Proteins are unfermentable, so they are the primary contributor to mouthfeel. Hardness or softness of the water supply is also a contributing factor.
Characteristics of mouthfeel are described within a portion of the Meilgaard Beer Flavor Wheel, developed by Morton Meilgaard in the 1970’s. The attributes of alkalinity (detergent) and mouthcoating (creaminess) apply to taste alone. Other attributes are associated with taste and odor:
Metallic – a tinny or rusty characteristic, akin to sucking on nails or nickels.
Astringent – the mouthpuckering attribute that draws your inner cheeks inward, toward your tongue.
Powdery – a chalky or gritty feel.
Carbonation – a characteristic associated with bubbles dancing on your tongue, a gassy feature, or a flat type of feel.
Warming – an alcoholic or spicy attribute that fills your mouth and dissipates to the membranes lining your throat.
In 1991, Susan Langstaff, J.-X. Guinard and M.J. Lewis of the Department of Food Science & Technology, University of California, Davis, presented The Sensory Evaluation of the Mouthfeel of Beer to the American Society of Brewing Chemists. Their research essentially updated the Meilgaard Wheel, presenting nine descriptors that identify the fine characteristics of mouthfeel.
For a clear depiction of this sense, they divided these descriptors into two components -
Sting – Sudden, sharp stimulation; a “biting” sensation.
Bubble size – Small, tight bubbles are usually a sign of natural carbonation. Large bubbles may be a sign of the artificial injection of carbon dioxide. Descriptives are: “creamy,” “champagne-like,” or “rocky.”
Foam Volume – the style of beer dictates the appropriate volume of foam. e.g.“Full in the mouth” or “thin.”
Total CO2 – This may be artificially infused, or may be a product of the process. In some beers, Lambics or Meads, the presence of carbon dioxide is very low. This attribute relates to gassiness or flatness within the brew.
Density – The thickness within the body of a beer. This is usually described as “light,” “medium” or “full-bodied.”
Viscosity – Internal friction within the liquid caused by molecular attraction, which makes it resist the tendency to flow. This is often associated with a “long” finish.
Astringency – the puckering effect, often associated with the type of hops used, or as the result of herbs or fruit. This is often described as a “crisp, dry finish” or “tartness.”
Stickiness – The tendency to cling to the tongue, described as a “cloying” effect.
Oily mouthfeel – A slickery feeling that tends to coat the mouth.
When you are assessing the mouthfeel of a beer, discard your notions that beers of similar color will have a similar mouthfeel. Also disassociate yourself with the idea that dark beers are “heavy” – this is not always the case.
Assess your first mouthful of beer (an ounce or so) for aroma and flavor alone. In your secondary mouthful, concentrate on mouthfeel. Feel the beer as it swirls over your tongue. Allow it to permeate all the recesses within your mouth. Concentrate on the sensations you are experiencing, including the way it slides down your throat. Note your impressions in your leather log book. Describe any emotive responses you experience, along with words that pinpoint the kinesthetic characteristics you detect.
You have now assessed your beer for Appearance, Aroma, Taste and Mouthfeel. Next: Overall Impressions and Drinkability.
Beer Tasting Tips: Training Your Taste Buds
Beer Tasting Tips: Assessing Appearance
Beer Tasting Tips: Evaluating Aroma
Beer Tasting Tips: Appraising Taste Profiles
Beer Tasting Tips - Impression & Drinkability
Flat Beer – Off Flavors & Stale Ale
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Beer Tasting Tips - Assessing Appearance
Beer Tasting Tips - Evaluating Aroma
Beer Tasting Tips - Training Your Taste Buds
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