Julia Herz on How to Taste Beer

julia-herz-crdt-courtesy-brewers-associationJulia Herz knows a thing or two about how to drink beer. In addition to serving as the Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, she’s also an award-winning homebrewer, certified beer judge, certified cicerone and, most recently, co-author of Beer Pairing with Gwen Conley—a topic about which she’s especially passionate. She’s also one of our Imbibe 75 picks for People to Watch in 2016. And while there may be no wrong way to drink a beer, Herz offers her two cents on how to maximize the experience.

Freshness Matters. Aside from beers made to be aged, beer tastes best when it’s fresh. And, of course, the best place to get fresh beer is straight from the source. “That’s one reason why more than 10 million people visited their local U.S. brewery in 2014,” says Herz, adding that beer fresh from the tap retains the delicate flavors and aromas that tend to dissipate the longer a brew sits.

Try a Glass. More bars and breweries are putting a stronger focus on their glassware as a way to highlight a beer’s best characteristics. Even if you’re just popping open a can at home, Herz suggests transferring the beer into a glass—doesn’t even need to be a specially-shaped one. “Pouring your beer into a glass helps the aromatics escape along with some of the carbonation, so you can enjoy the aromas even more.”

Flavor is a Fusion of Goodness. Flavor is about much more than taste, says Herz. “Think of flavor as a triangle of goodness,” she says. “At the top of the triangle is aroma (what we often notice first). Another corner of the triangle is the basic tastes of sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami—think residual sugar from the glory of malted barley and bitterness from blissful hops. The final point of the triangle is mouthfeel—things like temperature, carbonation and tannins.” It’s a combination of all three points—aroma, taste and mouthfeel—that creates a beer’s overall character.

Perception is Personal. The mind-to-palate connection is a tricky thing, with our own preferences and experiences coloring how we perceive flavors. “The palate does not have bias, but your mind does, and that will skew tasting experiences,” Herz says. “Your palate just tastes what it tastes, but your mind applies a story to those flavors. My sense of what is too sweet or too bitter may not be the same as for you.” The Brewer’s Association offers quite a bit of information on its website (and even full courses on culinary pairing), but Herz is quick to point out that personal preference shouldn’t be ignored. “Screw what anyone else says. If you like it, or you don’t, that’s what should carry the day.”