Evaluating Beer

Tom here. Last Fall I brewed a few different kinds of beers in preparation for the holidays, including an Irish Stout. I'd successfully made this stout the prior year, and it's the perfect beer for cold nights, alongside a pot roast or something else hearty.

Elizabeth mentioned this to one of her classmates at school, and her classmate said that he knew a cicerone -- a beer sommelier -- and could she bring in a bottle for him to evaluate. We recently got the results, and they're fascinating.

A quick note about cicerones. The idea of a beer judging and beer sommeliers is fairly new. There's the Beer Judge Certification Program, which started in the mid-80's. They publish a list of about 100 official beer styles, each with their own characteristics. Here's what they have to say about Irish Stout:

A black beer with a pronounced roasted flavor, often similar to coffee. The balance can range from fairly even to quite bitter, with the more balanced versions having a little malty sweetness and the bitter versions being quite dry. Draught versions typically are creamy from a nitro pour, but bottled versions will not have this dispense-derived character. The roasted flavor can be dry and coffee-like to somewhat chocolaty.

The Cicerone program is a certification program from the Craft Beer Institute, training people on tasting and handling beer.  They've got four levels of certification, from Certified Beer Server through Master Cicerone. The cicerone that tasted my beer gave me notes in four main areas (aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel), and then an overall impression.

It was fun to read -- my beer's aroma was "moderate dark chocolate, light roast/turkish coffee, plum esters above threshold, slight sour aroma like worcestershire". The flavor was "intense cocoa powder flavors, medium sweetness of candied nuts and dark fruits, plums, some cherry."

In the overall notes, he called it a "very solid expression of the style", but noted that the "aroma could have been more alluring and the mouthfeel was disjunct given the depth of the flavor". He gave me a few suggestions for next time (increased proportions of very dark grains; dropping the ferment temperature).

I will admit that I was not sure about having my beer judged. I do okay with the homebrew, but it's more of a hobby than anything, and I've definitely made a couple of beers that didn't stack up to my initial hopes. Having gone through this makes me want to experiment a little more and do some side-by-side comparisons. I'm not sure I'll be able to sense candied nuts and dark fruits in my beer anytime soon, but it would be fun to try.