I think there is a stigma attached to smelling craft beer before drinking it. “Only beer snobs smell their beer; just drink it!” is what I hear in my head sometimes as I go in to sniff my freshly poured brew.
As craft beer enthusiasts, we don’t want to come across as pretentious or weird. In fact, being approachable and open is one of the best characteristics of the craft beer community. But sniffing craft beer is a topic that can create a divide between the craft beer aficionado and the casual beer drinker because it can make us look like “beer snobs”. So understanding why smelling is important can help everyone enjoy their beer more.
Nose And Mouth Working Together
Have you ever walked into a kitchen and said “that smells delicious!” Or maybe walked by a pizzeria and said, “that pizza smells so good I can almost taste it!” Enjoying a slice of pizza begins with aroma and drinking craft beer is no different.
Regardless of the type of beer, there are characteristics that are only found in the aroma. Often times, I can smell the beer as the bottle or can is opened. For example, a bourbon barrel aged beer can release strong aromas when opened. I have also found this to be true with heavily hopped IPAs. And this is even before the beer has been poured.
As the beer is poured, the carbonation creates the head (foam). This foam releases aromatics from the beer. In IPAs, some hop profiles are better detected in the aroma than in the taste. For stouts, the level of roast, coffee or vanilla characteristics are in the scent of the beer.
Using your olfactory senses prepares your palate for tasting. This is an essential benefit to taking the time to get your nose into the beer and will make the beer taste that much better.
Train Your Brain
As a craft beer fan, recognizing flavors found in your beer is important to you. Even if you never plan on being an expert, you will enjoy the beer even more if you can taste all of the flavors that it has to offer. It is even possible to find new flavors in beers that you have enjoyed for years.
For many, this is a skill that is learned over time. Being able to identify the type of hops in a beer or pulling out the toffee flavors in a brown ales isn’t always easy. Comparing different beers and pointing out the differences is one way to help teach yourself what to look for.
By smelling a beer, you can begin to train your brain to know the distinct and nuanced scents that make up a great beer. And if you can smell them; there is a great chance you will be able to taste it too.
Craft Beer Glassware
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention glassware at this point. By using the ideal glassware; you will get more aromas from the beer. The point of using specific glassware is to directly enhance the aroma and taste of the beer.
An IPA glass will change your ability to smell those amazing hops. It does this by providing aeration, capturing aromas and keeping the beer cold. Esquire wrote an article on the IPA glass right before it was launched a few years ago.
While not necessary; I do recommend picking up some new glassware. It isn’t too expensive and if taken care of they last a long time and will encourage you to properly smell your beer before drinking it.
Proper Smelling Technique
I’ve been smelling beer for a while now. It seemed almost instinctual for me; this may have come from hanging out with bourbon fans. Recently, I found out that I had been doing it wrong all along. Beer Advocate explains the right way to do it.
- Breathe through your nose with two quick sniffs
- Then repeat with your mouth open
- Next smell through your mouth only.
- Try to identify the aromas to predict the taste.
You can agitate through the process and repeat periodically as you drink the beer. I recommend repeating once the beer has warmed up slightly as the aromas are often stronger then.
Smelling Craft Beer Is Important
So the question is:
Should you smell craft beer before drinking it?
Yes, without a doubt, smelling craft beer is an important part of enjoying it.
Sniffing your beer might seem odd at first but it really adds to the enjoyment of craft beer drinking. And this goes further than beer; wine and whiskey enthusiasts have similar practices.
So at the risk of looking like a “beer snob”, smelling craft beer before you drink is essential to the process. I promise that it will add to the flavor and overall experience. That IPA will have more of the floral or citrus notes that the can told you it would have. That stout will have a sweeter vanilla taste that your friend says he is tasting. And if someone looks at you odd; take a minute and explain what you are doing then start a conversation about beer, life and whatever else comes to mind.