Can You Improve Your Tasting Skills?
A sip of beer is an illusory experience. The sensations are fleeting, and there you are, sniffing, exhaling, trying to express the moment before it is gone. Jerald O’Kennard, director of the Beverage Testing Institute, has some tips to sharpen your perceptions, and possibly even increase your enjoyment of your beer.
1. Build your sense library. Be more aware of the smells around of you. Then label them, give them a word, store them away. Every time you taste something―when you’re cooking at home, going to the fruit stand, or out camping―you can be consciously building sense memories that will stick, and naming them so you’ll have them in that fleeting moment of time when you need to put a word on paper to tell someone else what this tastes like.
2. Be open to new things. Have a funky cheese every once in a while. Challenge yourself with something that sounds weird to you. You can’t hang onto a ten year-old’s view of food and drink.
3. When you’re tasting, go with your first impression. That’s when you need to have at your fingertips some sense memories. The more sense memories you can come to the table with, the better off you are: “OK, I know I’ve smelled this before. Can I put an association to it?” If you can’t put a word to it, you’re going to lose it.
4. Use shorthand. If there’s not one particular thing popping up, but it is of a category, just use the category. Say you can’t name a particular spice―pepper spice, baking spice, brown spice―you still know it’s spicy. It may be a mélange of things, and you can’t really name it, you know it’s spicy. Write that down.
5. Pace yourself. Your ability to smell and taste things becomes fatigued.
Julie Johnson is the technical editor of All About Beer Magazine.