When the original idea of the Beer Scouts was floating around in our heads, we were concerned with producing good beer reviews. Writing a thoughtful, informative and entertaining synopsis of anything can be difficult. I do not envy the jobs of food critics, movie reviewer, or the guys and gals over at Pitchfork. In addition to the inherent difficulty of reviewing anything, some of our Scouts are new converts to the joys of good beer. Which, we think, will help make our reviews accessible to every beer drinker – the newbie as well as the connoisseur. We needed to come up with a guide of sorts to help us define just what we are tasting and keep our review criteria consistent from one beer to the next. What we came up with is the Flavor Wave™.
Our little scale is the backbone, but not the meat, of the beer reviews written by the KC Beer Scouts. It’s a snapshot of the aroma, flavors, mouthfeel, and aftertaste of a beer broken down into 20 components rated from 0 to 5. This idea isn’t entirely ours. We researched aroma and flavor components of beer and found flavor wheels, tasting guides, and some killer tasting booklets. (33 Beers is the tasting booklet I carry outside of Beer Scout meetings. Highly recommended.) Our tasting tool also had to translate easily to the web in a visually interesting way. A long list of numbers and ratings wasn’t going to cut it. So this is what we came up with. The Flavor Wave below shows what each of our reviewers tasted in Saison Dupont, as an example.
Flavor Wave for Saison Dupont
Here is a brief description of each of the 20 components of the Flavor Wave. Reviews rate each component between 0 and 5, with 0 indicating the beer does not have that characteristic at all, and 5 indicating that that component is especially prominent in the beer.
- Hops – The aromas and flavors associated with hops – may be floral, citrus, bitter or spicy (or a combination). These are flavor components that don’t come from the malt or the yeast or other additives like fruit or spices.
- Citrus fruit – Aroma and flavor components often derived from late hop additions of certain American varietals, but could also be from the use of actual citrus fruit or spices. Common flavors include orange, orange peel, lemon, and grapefruit. Less often flavors tasted are lime or kumquat.
- Floral – Usually noticed in the aroma (although some beers actually taste like flowers – especially those made with hibiscus, rose and others). Sometimes specific flowers are noted, but often it’s just a general flowery scent.
- Spicy – Sometimes from hops, sometimes from yeast, sometimes from actual spices, such as peppercorn, coriander, and cloves.
- Herbal – Often aromas and flavors of kitchen herbs like parsley, anise, grassy, licorice.
- Bitter – A measurement of just how bitter the beer is – whether from hops or roasted (almost burnt) malt. Bitterness gets you on the back of your tongue and tends to linger.
- Malt – Malt contributes to sweetness, mouthfeel, and grain flavors. Very malty beers often taste like sweetened cereal and have a thicker mouthfeel.
- Sweetness – Sweetness usually comes from residual sugars that were not fermented out of the malt. Sweetness can also come from fruit extracts, lactose (like milk stouts) or other additions. Very dry beers, such as true lambics, would rank low here. Lindemans Framboise ranks very high, as would a dopplebock.
- Roast – Burnt, coffee, or chocolate favors are derived from highly roasted malts, or potentially from actual coffee or chocolate used in the beer.
- Toasty – Bready, crusty, aromas and flavors come from malt and yeast.
- Caramel – Candy sweetness, often from caramel malts.
- Nutty – Usually a general flavor component from kilned malts, but sometimes from actual nuts.
- Alcohol – This is a measure of how much alcohol comes across in the flavor, aroma, or aftertaste of the beer. It’s not a measure of alcohol content. Some 5%ers smell like booze and warm your throat while some 9%ers go down like Kool-Aid.
- Dark fruit – Another group of flavors from dark malts, or sometimes from actual fruit. Prunes, berries, rasins, plums, and red wine flavors are often present in darker beers.
- Sour – A rare flavor component in mainline beers, but a major one in many Belgian and Belgian-inspired beers. These make your mouth pucker and get you on the sides of your tongue.
- Yeasty – Yeast are a type of fungus, so a yeasty beer might have a bit of umami or mushroom flavor, but some yeast strains produce a specific set of flavors, such as the noticeable banana and clove flavors of Bavarian hefeweizens.
- Funky – Does something smell off? Taste a little rotten? Or skunky? Might have a funky beer. Most often, it’s a bad sign. Sometimes, as with some Belgian styles, a little funk (or a lot of funk) is a good thing. Funkiness often comes from specific “funky” yeasts like Brettanomyces (Boulevard’s Saison-Brett), or from spontaneously fermenting natural yeasts.
- Astringent – This is less of a flavor, and more of a feeling. Astringency is the mouth-puckering sensation of sucking on a bag of black tea. Red wine tannins are astringent, as another example.
- Body – The viscosity of the beer – how thick does it pour and how heavy does it feel in your mouth? Water would be a zero. Syrup a five.
- Finish – This is a measure of how long the flavor and feeling of the beer sticks around on your palette after a sip. This isn’t as much about good finish vs. bad finish as it is about strong, lasting finish vs. oh-I-already-forgot-I-just-tasted-a-beer finish.
We hope that helps explain the graphs on each review. The Flavor Wave becomes a visual snapshot of what we tasted in each beer. It also points out where we perceive certain flavors differently from each other. Where some taste funky sour, others may taste stinky feet. Where some taste cherry pie, others taste cough syrup. (Trust us, this happens.) But that’s why we’re presenting a whole bunch of Flavor Waves from a whole bunch of tasters for each beer. Hopefully, after reading several reviews on this site, you will identify a beer scout or two who has a similar pallet to yours, and then you’ll know you can always trust their reviews … until you discover they are way off on something. (This happens.) But that’s what the comments section is for!