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I've read descriptions of wines (and lately more beers) where the tasting notes say things like "cherries, floral", etc. I've never tasted any of this when I drink/taste the corresponding beer/wine.

How do I train my palate to better taste beer?

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5 Answers 5

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If you have a local homebrew club that has semi-regular meetings, they will often have tastings and such where you can hear other people describe the things that they're tasting. A lot of it is learning to be watchful for certain smells and flavours. You may taste them and not know it, or you may be more or less sensitive to certain flavours and scents.

I smell DMS every time I'm near a co-worker, and isoamyl acetate every time another co-worker brings in his breakfast banana. All thanks to beer.

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I've found nothing works better than a Dr. Beer (doctored beer) type seminar, where you have several participants (hopefully some more experienced) tasting a fairly neutral beer with specific flavors added to allow the participants to experience the single flavor, identify it and associate a name/description with it and understand how and why it might come about.

Similarly, though not as efficient, is to steward or be a novice judge at a beer/homebrew competition. This will allow you to sample beers with others who have a (hopefully) more experienced palate and become familiar with the terms as well as the flavors.

Both of these can come from taking a BJCP study class, which tend to be common before BJCP exams in a given area and are often associated with homebrew clubs.

And finally, I'd add that more often than not, you are not so much improving your palate as you are getting better at communicating what it is that you already taste, though there is certainly a level of heightened introspection that happens through the process.

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If you take a minute or two every time you pick up a beer to stop and make mental notes about the aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel you will should start to notice more and more flavors. –  Northern Brewer Chris Dec 3 '10 at 20:53
    
BJCP Study class? I looked on their website and found a list of tests, but nothing about classes. –  Pulsehead Dec 4 '10 at 13:24
    
I'd say a wine tasting class would really improve your palate. The other option would be to attend a coffee cupping. Both will open your eyes to the multitude of flavors you can experience. –  KRock Dec 6 '10 at 13:43
    
@Pulsehead They usually won't be advertised on their own, as they are geared towards a specific event. Namely the BJCP exam. So I'd recommend looking at the list of exams in your area and contacting the exam coordinator to see if they know of any study classes happening for the exam. –  Tim Dec 6 '10 at 19:30
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Its not so much what others taste, its what you taste. Try putting your own words to a flavor descriptor first. Then compare it to some one elses notes. Maybe cherries aren't the best descriptor for your palate. But you do taste something, so what is it? Don't doubt your own palete and what its telling you. Taste is so subjective. And it takes practice too. Go buy three different stouts and figure why they taste different. Do this for many beer styles. And you'll well be on your way.

Next time you are at a beerfest, focus on a goal Brown ales, or fruit beers or high alcohol beers.

Just to reiterate, have confidence in your palate and you'll start hearing what it has to say.

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What I did that really helped develop my palate was to go buy the beers listed as classic commercial example in the BJCP guidelines. Then I'd drink a beer while I read through the guidelines, trying to taste what was described. That really helps you put a name to what you're tasting.

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I improve my taste and smell skills by "blind" tests. From time to time me with friends prepare a sessions where we put various ingredients into cups and smell them with eyes closed. Like piece of banana, cherry, vanilla etc. The flavors are not known before for you. This is a great way how to improve it. Then you can try it with beer too.

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