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What's in a taste? Our Master Brewer - Gearoid Cahill

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What's in a taste?

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When it comes to tasting beer, what constitutes a ‘good’ beer and a ‘bad’ beer? Firstly, there are many different beer types and people will gravitate to what suits their palate.

Pilsner beers can be thin on mouthfeel, taste quite bitter with no sweetness from the malt, giving a crisp clean bitterness with some fruitiness from the esters produced by the yeast naturally during fermentation.

Some ales have body with a creamy mouthfeel, sweetness from the malt, bitterness from hops and also a great hop aroma from other hop types.

Some ciders can be thin, dry, fruity and acidic. Which do you prefer – that’s up to your own personal taste. That’s the great thing about beers and ciders – you can find many that suit your palate.

You see, humans are equipped with the ability to taste, smell and sense the mouthfeel of foods and beverages. These senses work in combination to give an overall impression of what is being consumed. There are also other factors at play that influence whether we find a taste desirable or not. As children we find sweetness very desirable and bitterness quite unpalatable. As we age bitterness and sourness have an increasing appeal.

However, like many natural processes, there are times when things go astray and unwanted flavours may arise. Usually when this happens, the beer or cider is generally undesirable. It’s no longer a case that this drink is not anybody’s type – it’s simply that the beer has faults that render it undesirable.

For example, if a beer is old and oxidised, it develops a cardboard, almost musty taste, irrespective of the type of beer. This will not appeal to people. Rest assured, brewers and cider makers spend most of their time standing guard over their processes to ensure that they produce the best drinks that they can and in a consistent manner.

In breweries and cideries across the world, no matter how much testing and measuring goes on during production, not a single batch is released unless it is tasted by competent people to ensure that it is of the right quality and has the right flavour attributes for that drink type. Now that’s good to know.