Answering the question of what does beer taste like is akin to trying to explain to someone what food tastes like. There are so many different beer styles and variations of those styles that it is very difficult to describe its exact taste.
We can however provide a breakdown of the different tastes you can expect to experience when you try the different styles of beer.
So what does beer taste like? Typically you can expect to experience some variation of the following flavors, either hoppy, malty, bitter, sweet, sour, or even skunky tasting. A beer’s taste is going to depend not only on the ingredients that the brewer used to make the beer, but how the beer was brewed, fermented, conditioned, and packaged, as well as how old it is.
In this post, we will review the most common beer flavors, why beer tastes the way it does, as well as explaining what flavors you can expect to experience from the more popular beer styles…
Table of Contents
- What Does Beer Taste Like?
- Does Beer Taste Good?
- Ingredients That Affect a Beers Taste
- Why Does Beer Taste Better in a Glass?
- What Does Ale Taste Like?
- What Does a Lager Taste Like?
- The Different Styles of Beer & Their Flavor
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Beer Taste Like?
The following are the more common flavors you can expect to taste when drinking a beer…
Many beers but not all will have a noticeably bitter taste to them. This is a direct result of the use of hops in the brewing process. Hops are actually flowers or better known as cones of a plant called humulus lupulus. They were originally used as a preservative allowing the beer to stay fresher longer. Nowadays they are still used for that purpose as well as providing taste, aroma, head retention, and yes bitterness to the beer.
It should be stated that depending on the recipe beer can also get bitterness from herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Orange zest, juniper, and even spruce tips are examples.
If you don’t like a bitter taste you can still enjoy many styles of beer that have no detectable bitterness flavor and we will review some of them further in this post.
The sweet taste of a beer comes from the malt. Malt is a grain that has been specifically produced for brewing beer. When beer is made warm water is used to extract the sugar out of the grain. Sugar is what the yeast feeds on to create alcohol, carbonation, and other flavors.
All alcoholic beverages need some sugar in order for the yeast to create alcohol. For example, in wine it is the grape that provides the sugar, in beer, it is the malt. The level of sweetness of the beer will depend on how much sugar or malt is left after the beer has finished fermenting. The more malt or sugar left over the sweeter tasting the beer will be.
A popular style of craft beer, sours have a distinct sour, tart, or even acidic taste. The sour taste is a result of the brewer using a wild yeast or bacteria during fermentation. These wild organisms that brewers use to sour their beer can provide for a wide range of varying tastes and flavors. They can range from intense sourness to a lighter, more tart, and fruity flavor and even go so far as being described as funky tasting.
Although not a taste traditionally found in beer, fruit-flavored beers are becoming more popular all of the time. Adding fruit during the brewing process adds numerous unique, fun, and refreshing flavors to beer. More and more popular fruits such as citrus, berries, passionfruit, and peach are finding their way into beer. It should also be noted that many strains of hops can also provide fruit flavors.
Darker beers such as porters or stouts can have a chocolate taste to them. Although there are some beers that actually do have chocolate in them, it might come as a surprise to some people that the chocolate taste may not actually come from chocolate.
There are many different malts (grains) that brewers can use to create the chocolate taste in the beer. Depending on the type of malts used some beers may taste more like the bitter darker chocolate used by bakers while others may have a finish that is sweeter.
Some people describe some beers as having a hoppy taste to them, but what does this really mean? Beers that are typically described as being hoppy would be the ones that either taste intensely bitter or have a fruity, piney, or floral aroma.
An example of a beer considered to be hoppy tasting would be a West Coast OPA, which is both high in bitterness and has citrus flavors, both of which are imparted from the hops used in making the beer.
As you have seen the malt used in the brewing process determines the sweetness level of the beer however it can also impart other unique tastes to include flavor profiles such as nuts, toast, biscuit, toffee, bread, coffee, caramel, and even fruit flavors such as plums, raspberries, and cherries to name just a few.
Does Beer Taste Good?
Each year people drink approximately 200 million liters of beer. It is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world and is one of the top 9 most consumed beverages worldwide.
Clearly, beer would not be this popular if it did not taste good.
Having said that, there is no question that beer is an acquired taste, and the more you drink it the more you are going to come to enjoy its taste.
If you are just learning to like the taste of beer you may be interested in learning how to make beer taste better.
Ingredients That Affect a Beers Taste
The taste of beer is mostly dependent on its ingredients, the primary ingredients of beer are…
The fact is that without water beer would not exist. In many cases, water makes up 95% of the ingredients in beer and has a major effect on the taste of it. Not only is the quality of the water important but also its makeup. Brewers will adjust their water with certain ingredients in order to get the exact water profile they want for their beer.
The most popular grain used in beer is barley. Some other grains used are wheat, rye, and oats, etc. Barley is the most popular because it has a higher enzyme content making it more suitable for brewing. All of these grains are referred to as malt and they are toasted versions of their original raw form.
The grains are toasted as this not only gives the beer some of its flavors but it also allows the brewer access to the enzymes and sugars held within the grains themselves; which are not easily accessible in their raw form.
Inside of hop cones is something called lupulin. Which are sticky glands that not only provide the bitter taste in beer but also balance the sweet taste of the malt and provide essential oils that contribute to a beer’s aroma and flavor.
An interesting thing to note is that our sense of smell is very closely connected to our sense of taste. Much of what we perceive as being a beer’s taste is actually a result of its aroma. An example is if a beer smells like tropical fruit in most cases we will perceive it tasting like tropical fruit also.
Most people are not aware of the profound impact yeast has on the taste of a beer, it quite literally defines it. You can use all of the exact same ingredients and simply change the yeast used and you will have made a completely different beer. The difference in the same beers fermented with two separate yeasts is so big that in many cases you would find it hard to believe the same ingredients were used. Lagers vs Ales are a great example of this. The main difference between these two styles of beer is the yeast used when brewing them.
Why Does Beer Taste Better in a Glass?
Remember how we talked about the aroma of the beer having a direct impact on how we perceive the taste of it? This is one of the main reasons why beer tastes better in a glass. Drinking the beer straight from a can or a bottle reduces your sense of smell significantly and alters the taste of the beer.
When you pour a beer into a glass it allows for the carbonation to become activated which helps with the head formation. As the carbonation bubbles rise and pop at the surface they are releasing the aromas of the beer. As you take a drink of the beer these aromas combine with the actual flavor to provide for a much better drinking experience.
The other advantage of drinking your beer from a glass is getting to see what the beer looks like. The color of the beer, its clarity, the carbonation level, the size of the head on it, all give us an idea of what the mouthfeel and taste of the beer will be like.
What Does Ale Taste Like?
Pinpointing exactly what an Ale tastes like is almost as difficult as explaining what a beer tastes like. This is because there are so many types of Ales. The majority of beer styles are in fact Ales. They do tend to be darker than lagers and typically have a more cloudy appearance and provide a more full-bodied taste.
Some people would say they are sweeter tasting which has to do with the yeast that is used when brewing them, it ferments the Ale quicker and as a result, creates certain esters which increase the sweetness.
What Does a Lager Taste Like?
Lagers on the other hand are typically a lighter beer with a clear appearance. Taste-wise they are typically crisper and cleaner tasting although nowadays many brewers are experimenting with lagers and adding more ingredients to change the taste profile and bring it more in line with some of the popular styles of Ale on the market. An example is the India Pale Lager which is a direct copy of an India Pale Ale.
The Different Styles of Beer & Their Flavor
There are so many styles of beer trying to list each of them and how they taste would take many posts, however, we are going to take a look at some of the more popular styles of beer and what they taste like…
This style of beer would be the most popular in North America, brands such as Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and Michelob would all be considered American Lagers. They usually have a very neutral flavor. You will not pick up much of a grain-like flavor from the malts nor will you get much in the way of hop taste. They are not a bitter beer and as a result of the low amount of hops used for bittering you can usually pick up a corn-like flavor. They are a balanced beer, with a crisp dry finish. The carbonation level is high and they are considered to be a thirst-quenching beer.
Amber American Lager
This style of beer is known for its caramel or toasty-like flavor. It has a medium body and mouthfeel with a bitterness level produced from the hops that is low to medium. The best commercial example of an Amber American Lager is Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
These are another darker-colored lager with a sweeter malt taste. In most cases, they will have a slightly toasted flavor. However, the hops do provide enough bitterness to offset and balance the malt flavors. It has a dry and crisp finish and somewhat of a lingering aftertaste. With some recipes, you will notice a light floral or spicy flavor from the hops.
This style of beer is lighter in color and body. It is a dry and crisp tasting beer however some versions will have a slightly sweet taste from the Pilsner malt used to brew it. It has a fair amount of bitterness that dominates the flavor profile, which you will taste as soon as you take a drink and it will last into the aftertaste. The hops used to make this beer are noble European hops and they provide a flavor that depending on the recipe can be low to medium. Some might describe it as being somewhat of a malty but crisp beer with a pronounced hop flavor.
English Brown Ale
There are two versions of English Brown Ale. One originally from the north of England and the other from the south. The northern version has a dryer, less sweet taste, whereas the southern version has a sweeter more caramel pronounced taste. Both versions of this style present chocolatey and toasted nut characteristics.
Do not be fooled by the word bitter in the name. This style of beer is not bitter tasting at all, especially when you compare it to American IPAs. English bitters are considered a session beer that is highly drinkable with alcohol content levels typically under 5%. Their body and mouthfeel is lighter with a very nice balance of malt sweetness and bitterness from the hops.
American Pale Ale
An American Pale Ale is one of the most popular styles of beer worldwide. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of the top-selling versions of this beer in America and is a great example of this style of beer. The APA is the American version of an English pale ale, however, it is less malty tasting and uses American hops which provide for more of a citrus, fruity, or piney taste. There is a slight sweetness that has hints of caramel flavors. In recent years many versions of APA have become very similar in taste to IPAs.
There are a few different styles of wheat beer to include versions from Germany, Belgian, and America. Instead of the majority of the grains used to brew them being barley, the majority is wheat which provides for a complex flavor that typically includes lemony, citrusy, and bready characteristics.
Some styles like a Hefeweizen have flavors of banana, clove, and even bubblegum which are a direct result of the yeast used. They are a milder tasting beer that has low bitterness levels and are considered summer beers due to their refreshing taste.
The easiest way to describe an Amber ale would be a maltier-tasting Pale Ale. Crystal malts are used to increase the caramel and toffee flavors of this beer. It has a full-bodied mouthfeel with a medium-high level of carbonation. Its bitterness level is medium to medium-high however the maltiness of it typically balances or hides its hop character. Higher ABV versions can provide an alcohol warming.
A darker beer that presents itself as being dark ruby to black in color, it is typically considered a winter beer. In most cases, it is going to have flavors of coffee, nuts, caramel, toffee, or chocolate. Oftentimes you will also be able to pick out darker fruit flavors such as cherry. It is not a hoppy-tasting beer and leans more on the flavors provided by the barley and oats used to make it.
Many people have a hard time distinguishing the difference between a Porter and a Stout and at one time Stouts were considered part of the Porter family. They have a similar appearance with their dark body. A Stout has creamier notes and mouthfeel. They typically have a strong roasted malt flavor that provides for tastes of darker chocolate and coffee. There is no obvious hop flavor present and the head is usually thick and creamy.
Farmhouse ales are actually not one style of beer but encompass a few styles, such as saisons, and biere de garde to name a couple. These ales originated literally on the farms in France and Belgium. They were brewed in the wintertime using leftover crops from the harvest. They were brewed for the farmhands to drink during the summer months. The flavor profiles of these beers can vary significantly however they typically have a tart funky flavor that could be described as wet hay or unripened strawberries. They are typically a dry and crisp-tasting beer.
Sour beers have really come on in popularity in recent years. They could be described as a palate changer. Very much like wine they are more of a sipping drink. They are a very tart-tasting beer that is typically flavored with berries such as raspberries. They are deliberately soured in order to achieve high levels of acidity which provides for the unique flavors of this beer.
Unlike most styles of beer, you will not taste typical sweet or bitter flavors. Sours beers are very much of an exotic beer taste that years ago we would have not considered drinking due to concern over the beer being spoiled, however, in recent years brewers have figured out how to make these beers safely.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does beer taste like for the first time?
Typically most people will find that beer tastes overly bitter when they first try it. However, even though beer for most people is an acquired taste very similar to coffee; many will find that after their first sip they will most likely come to enjoy the rest of the pint. This is because your brain’s reward system is very quickly triggered by the ingredients in the beer creating a pleasurable effect.
Why do guys like beer so much?
There are a couple of reasons it is believed that guys like beer. The first is of course the taste, they have simply acquired a taste for it and enjoy it. The other reason is the social aspect of beer, i.e male bonding. Beer is lower in alcohol than most other alcoholic beverages, it gives the drinker a beer buzz and it takes longer for someone to get drunk on it, which allows guys more time to enjoy it socially with their friends.
What are off flavors in beer?
Off flavors are flavors in beer that are a result of some form of contamination and are not a typical flavor you would expect to find in your beer. They can range in flavors and aromas of buttery popcorn, rotten vegetables, sulfur, spoiled milk, butter, and rotten eggs to name just a few.
What does it mean for a beer to be skunked?
The term skunked is actually a very good comparison. When you open the beer you will get an aroma that is very similar to that released by a skunk. This happens to a beer when it has been exposed to sunlight or UV rays for an extended period of time. It is a common off-flavor found in beers that have been packaged in green or clear-colored bottles.
An interesting fact is some brewers package their beer in these bottles in order to intentionally create the skunked flavor in their beer. Some will even expose the beer to UV rays to create this flavor profile.
An example of a beer that has a skunk flavor is Heineken.
You now have a very good understanding of what the flavor profile and taste of the beer you are ordering will be like as well as the ingredients that are used to create it and how to tell if it has gone bad.
Cheers, Big Robb is Out!
P.S. If you brew beer or are thinking about doing so be sure to take advantage of my offer to get access to the recipes for my top 5 beers from my brewpub. Sign up is on the side of the blog or bottom on a smart device. Enjoy!