I learned an important fact about wine tasting recently – at a beer tasting event!
Experts from SAB Miller led the tasting, first explaining to us wine-tasters how we should approach a serious beer-tasting session.
We were told some of the faults we should be looking out for – staling, oxidation, tainting, bacterial problems and many others – and showed the official tasting score card used at regular tastings at various stages of brewing.
We were told the different characteristics to look for in a lager, an ale, a pilsner and a stout. Every aspect of the beer had an official name.
At one stage we were asked to describe the aroma of a beer.
I said: “Horse shit.” The others giggled. But the expert was impressed.
“Yes,” he said, “it’s a recognized flavour, only we tend to refer to it as ‘farmyard’ aroma,” and he gave it a serious chemical name.
Look, I grew up on a farm and I know my horse shit when I smell it. There was no doubt about this one at all.
And so the tasting went. We tasted 40 different beers altogether.
Then the scores were collected and compared to those of the beer experts present.
And here’s where the lesson came in.
In almost every case, the experts’ top-scoring beer in the category was the same as the one we ordinary tasters had selected. We also scored the worst beers as poorly as did the experts.
To me this indicates that we don’t need impressive qualifications to distinguish good from bad.
Whether it is beer, wine or sausages we’re tasting, most of us recognise a good one when we come across it.
Nobody need be impressed by a so-called “connoisseur” who knows all the right words. If you enjoy a wine – or a particular beer – go for it. Your opinion is as valid as that of anyone else.
Some of the tasters at the beer event confessed they didn’t like stout, or ale, but still they selected the same ones as the experts when it came to scoring.
In wine you may not enjoy, say, Sauvignon Blanc, but you’ll probably know a good one when you taste it.
Never be intimidated in the presence of somebody with a university degree in oenology, or a Cape Wine Master’s certificate. They may be able to recognize the reasons for a wine being good or bad, but you’re just as likely as they are to know whether it’s great, ordinary or horse shit.