The next big challenge is to know what aroma and taste sensations to expect. This is an area where brewers have an advantage over drinkers. Brewers have the intimate connection to the ingredients and processes that give beer its character, from the colorful shades of specialty malts to the brash aromas of hops to the complex transformations that occur during brewing and fermentation.
As noted in the sidebar, malt kilning, even for the palest malt and beer types, is responsible for nearly all malt flavor. If you’ve ever had soup with barley in it, you know what I’m saying here; barley is as bland as it comes.
The bitter, herby/spicy bounce of hops is the perfect counterpoint to the richness of malt. Since the very beginning of beer, it has been known that some bitter herb is needed to make beer palatable and not cloyingly sweet.
Yeast adds its own bouquet of aromatic chemicals, and also acts in more subtle ways, accenting hops or malts, layering earthy, woodsy, or bright tones on top of the base beer. For brewers who really understand their yeast strains, this is a valuable tool for creating beers with a distinct personalities.
Understanding the ingredients and processes in beer is crucial. If you have a beer-tasting group, I highly recommend you go to the homebrew shop and round up three or four hops and six or eight different types of malt, and lay them all out for everybody to smell (hops) and taste (malt).