The sheer volume and variety of hops used to make beer is amazing, but it can also be quite daunting and confusing at the same time. New hops burst onto the scene, sending brewers and drinkers alike into a frenzy, with new blends or crops billed to be even better than their predecessors. Some hops offer huge hits of tropical flavours and aromas, whilst others can offer that of berries, grassiness, earthiness or even spice. But how do you know what you’re tasting?
Well, taste and aroma are both very subjective senses, with every person likely to experience different things when it comes to beer. Our ability to taste and smell are linked (with some things only detectable by taste or aroma, not both), but we do get some guidelines when it comes to hop flavours. Hop growers will give an expectation of what hops will give us such as pineapple, mango, peach or papaya, but what if you don’t?
Don’t fear, this doesn’t mean you’re wrong or you don’t have a refined palate. When we run tastings or our Craft Beer Experience we always state that tasting notes are guidelines, not definitives, again coming back to each person’s individual sense of taste and smell.
Our senses may be subjective, but they are also linked to past experiences and previous foods and beverages we may have drunk in the past. We build a database of smells and tastes, which lay dormant until they are next called upon, reigniting senses and memories we have stored away. This is what makes tasting beer both so exciting and unique; nobody is wrong. One person may get peaches, whilst another might get mango, and both are correct.
So the next time you’re sat wondering what your beer smells or tastes like, just say the first thing that comes to your mind. No matter how daft or bizarre it may seem, eventually it will make sense as your palate adjusts and gets attuned to the beer you are drinking.