How to judge beer like a pro

May 20, 2021
By Ioni Doherty

Endeavour Group’s Craft Beer and Cider Category Manager, Billy Ryan is an Associate Judge at the 2021 Australian International Beer Awards, the biggest beer awards show in the world. The awards ceremony is taking place on Thursday evening in Melbourne.

Judging beer is a very different process to judging a wine and perhaps the biggest difference, and challenge, is that when judging beer, you must swallow every time.

Ryan says: “You can only taste bitterness at the back of your mouth which means you have to swallow a beer in order to be able to taste and assess it. Needless to say, that means you can only judge so many beers in a day, whereas in wine competitions, judges can taste up to 200 different wines in a day.”

When judging wine, flavours and aromas are up to interpretation among judges, whereas when tasting beer, judges assess a beer based on the flavours it should have according to the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines.

The guidelines establish the colour, aromas and flavours that a specific beer style should have. When judges assess these beers at the awards, they can ensure that each beer displays the characteristics outlined in the style guidelines.

“As an example, if a tropical pale ale does not have any fruit-forward flavours and is dark in colour, it has not met the guidelines for the style. We also take into consideration the brewer’s interpretation of the style,” he explains.

When it comes to beer faults, one of the most common ones is oxidation, which means the beer has been exposed to oxygen in the brewing process. This can make the beer taste like paper or cardboard.

Another common fault is diacetyl, which is a bi-product created in the fermentation process, creating an unpleasant, buttered popcorn taste in beer. 

“Unfortunately, at times, batches of beers even from the best breweries will have these faults, and most people who try them will just think they don’t like the beer style or brewery, not having realised they were unlucky to come across a faulty batch,” Ryan explains.

Interestingly, brettanomyces – a  yeast species that creates many red wine faults – is used by some craft brewers to create styles like sour beer.

So how can you find a great beer every time?

“First of all, know the style of beer you prefer. Do you like a hoppy beer, or do you prefer something clean and crisp?Secondly, there are many brands and brewers out there, so remember the ones you’ve had good experiences with and try other beer styles they’ve made,” Billy advised.

“Try to enjoy a beer as fresh as you can. Most beers have a shelf life of about nine months depending on style, but certain styles – especially hoppy beers – are best enjoyed as fresh as possible,” he added.

“Dan Murphy’s and BWS range over 1000 different beers, and we need to make sure that the beers are good all the time. We do our due diligence before getting beers to our stores, so that comes with a certain quality and standard assurance for customers.”

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