Huzzah! Now on to our final step of this critical tasting process: the aftertaste sip!
Aftertaste can be a result of many aspects of the beer from attenuation, to ingredients, and (uh oh) process flaws.
The main elements we’ll look for in this sip are alcoholic warming, astringency, and overall aftertaste. This video explains what we’re tasting for and the technique used in this sip. It’s broken down in more detail in the blog post below it.
Alcoholic warming is pretty straightforward. That feeling after taking a shot of whiskey that burns from the back of your throat all the way down to your chest: that’s a *lot* of alcoholic warming. In beer you won’t experience anything that harsh but there are different levels of warming that indicate the amount of alcohol in the beer.
If you don’t feel any tingling warming sensation at all you’re likely tasting a beer with less than 5.5% ABV. When you just feel a fleeting touch of warmth, especially near your mid palate or toward the back of your tongue you’re moving into the 5.5-8.5% range. Warming at the back of your tongue and up the back of your mouth indicates 8-10%-ish and once the feeling of warming starts to move down your throat you’re in 10+% ABV territory.
Now this is just a way to help you estimate alcohol content because the amount of warming you experience from a beer is affected by other elements of mouthfeel and beer flavor. Beers with a high amount of artificial flavor may obscure their alcohol warming sensation. Certain spices like nutmeg and allspice can create a warming reminiscent of alcohol warming, with practice you can tell these two sensations apart. Beers that were fermented too warm may create more of a burning sensation in your throat without the alcohol content to back it up. (This can be because of poor fermentation, but that’s a discussion for another Tuesday!)
To enhance the perception of warming it helps me to exhale hard out of my throat with my mouth wide open, it’s not pretty but it works! I find this increases the feeling of burn if there is any at all.
Onto astringency, this is a sensation of drying as if all the moisture was sucked out of your mouth. This sensation is created by phenolic compounds, especially tannins.
Tannins are contained in the husks of malt and also to a lesser degree in hops. Most polyphenols and tannins extracted from malt don’t make it into the final beer because they coagulate with protein in the hot break (during the boil) and cold break (during chilling) and are left behind in a pile of mush in the kettle or fermenter.
The polyphenols that make it into the final beer coagulate with your saliva (just as they do in wort) and cause the sensation of moisture leaving your mouth (because it is being pulled away into coagulation!). This mouthfeel can be a pleasing way to end a sip and gives an impression of a clean finish to a beer. However, if an extreme amount of polyphenol is extracted (often from poor sparging and more recently from dry-hopping practices) the feeling of astringency can feel rough and unpleasant.
To get acquainted with this feeling you can try oversteeping some English breakfast tea but if you realllly want to know it go ahead and pop the tea bag right in your mouth, trust me you’ll get the drying sensation I’m talking about. (Astringency is part of the reason the “cinnamon challenge” is so unbearable, but I do not endorse trying it!)
This feeling of astringency is also similar to an aftertaste of bitterness from dark malt and/or high IBU hopping.
Finally, don’t forget to note the final aftertaste of the beer this is, after all, the last element of a beer’s flavor. Here you’re just noticing the final impression the beer leaves in your mouth. Is it a feeling? Maybe a mouth-coating slickness, or a rough dry astringency. Maybe it’s a final impression of the balance: this beer leaves sweetness in my mouth, or this beer leaves bitterness in my mouth. Maybe it’s a single flavor: banana (isoamyl acetate) or coconut (from barrels).
If you’re judging beer, be sure to note if the mouthfeel is pleasant or unpleasant, how long does it linger? Is that lingering appropriate for the style?
In blind style identification noticing mouthfeel trends can give you an extra clue when you’re tasting, or can confirm a guess. For example if you always note a long, harsh, lingering bitterness when you drink double IPA, and you get that same aftertaste in a blind tasting flight (for example on a Cicerone exam), this could confirm your guess that you are drinking double IPA and not a strong pale ale.