Take a second and think hard about your favorite brand and line of craft beer. Think about the taste when you take your first sip out of the cold glass. I bet you can practically taste it now (shoot for all I know you just might be drinking one as you read this). Now think about the smell you get right before you drink it and as you consume the delicious craft brew. Although you may not know it, the smell you get from the beer you are drinking directly affects the taste. It is widely thought that between 1/4 and 1/3 of the taste of food and beverage is dependent on its smell.
Smell is the dominant sense affecting flavor perception. Without it, what we taste would be very simplistic and much more one-dimensional. Thus smell is a synthetic experience, in that the brain has a hard time picking apart the individual pieces, compared to taste which is an analytic experience where our brain can dissect the parts more easily. – Craftbeer.com
Truth be told it’s actually important to let beer breathe briefly similar to wine in order to let the head settle and flavors develop. It doesn’t have to be long, but there is a difference between the brewer intended smell and taste and the first taste right after opening a bottle. There are two primary elements of beer that affect the smell of most beer.
The malt in beer is where the beer will derive its semi-sweet nature, and internationally it is the most recognizable element to craft beer’s smell. The malts can vary greatly in what has been done to them such as roasting, toasting, and mixed dark and deep flavored malts. Generally, malts are known evoke flavors and smells such as caramel, coffee, chocolate, and the general sweet smell in craft beer.
A regional favorite smell and taste of craft beer drinkers on the west coast, hops are known for creating herbal, earthy, bitter, piney, floral, citrus, and a variety of smells. IPA’s and some pale ales are well known for their high hop concentrations resulting in a strong showing of these flavors that we on the western coast of the United States have learned to love and appreciate. Depending on when the hops are added to the brew it will differently affect taste and smell, for more information on why and how; check out my hops blog post.
Outside of the traditional components to smell and taste, the large variety of beers on the market today have a wide variety of smell components. Sour beers, experimental beers, and variations to the brew process create new and exciting smells and tastes although some are better than others.
I challenge you to get a flight of beers at the local brewery in your town, order the most different sounding beers you can and try to pick them apart by smell. Let me know how you did!