How do I actually “taste” beer?

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lightningbug

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I’m studying and practicing for the BJCP judging exam and I’m starting to get a little demoralized with my inability to discern different flavors, especially from malt. It’s extra bad that I can’t seem to find anyone else online with the same problem… it’s like everyone can pick up the moderate notes of cracker, nuttiness, dough, toffee, corn etc and the only advice they need is to be more descriptive on their scoresheets.

I would love to be more-descriptive, but in most styles the malt flavors just taste like, well, beer. I can’t break it down any further, it smells and tastes like beer. I can maybe get bread or bread crust in the aftertaste sometimes on certain styles, but never anything mid palate, and I can never smell it at all (except highly roasted malts). But I think I’m doing okay with hops and fermentation flavors at least.

Any little tips on how to develop or train this, or how to taste beer in a way to make the flavors pop? I’ve tried a handful of common advice and it doesn’t seem to help. I know what caramel, toffee, crackers, etc taste like already. I practice a new scoresheet with a commercial beer every day. Eating raw malts tastes like straw mixed with milk balls (but not sweet), or like bran cereal, and not at all what they’re supposed to taste like in beer. I even tried some BJCP diy sensory training where you make mini-mashes by steeping small amounts of malt and compare their taste/aroma on a flavor wheel… they just taste like wort to me and seem wildly different to finished beer, and I STILL can’t taste the crackers or caramel.

Any help would be appreciated.
 
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Beholder

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Best suggestion I’ve seen, both for target flavors and off flavors, is dosing super light beer (like Bud 55) with drops from concentrated versions included in beer sensory kits.
 
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lightningbug

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Best suggestion I’ve seen, both for target flavors and off flavors, is dosing super light beer (like Bud 55) with drops from concentrated versions included in beer sensory kits.
Any recommendation for a specific sensory kit?
 

day_trippr

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Eating raw malts tastes like straw mixed with milk balls (but not sweet), or like bran cereal, and not at all what they’re supposed to taste like in beer.

This would seem to be the crux of the issue. I love chewing malted grains and back when my fave lhbs was in its prime (rip, Strangebrew) could be found pulling pinches out of the specialty grain bins for some considered mastication. If you can't appreciate the character of the "raw" malted grain I can't see how one could be discriminating in their appreciation of the finished product.

What to do? I dunno - keep experimenting in the hope that there'll be a connection made?

Cheers!
 
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I practice a new scoresheet with a commercial beer every day.

Consider taking a break from studying and practicing. Put the scoresheets and flavor wheels in a safe place. Enjoy the summer and the malt forward beers that summer offers.
 
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AlexKay

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This would seem to be the crux of the issue. I love chewing malted grains and back when my fave lhbs was in its prime (rip, Strangebrew) could be found pulling pinches out of the specialty grain bins for some considered mastication. If you can't appreciate the character of the "raw" malted grain I can't see how one could be discriminating in their appreciation of the finished product.

What to do? I dunno - keep experimenting in the hope that there'll be a connection made?

Cheers!
Plus-plus. Anyone who doesn’t like eating malt hasn’t had Simpson’s DRC yet. Though to be honest, Pilsner malt tastes like grass to me.
 

Bobby_M

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It's one thing to experience the off flavors sensory kits in dosed bud light but a much better method is to attend as many homebrew club meetings as possible and find the off flavors in actual beer. It's especially helpful if you have some very experienced judges in that club to help point out those flaws.

As far as sensory targets for malts and esters, stay with me here... smell and taste... actual caramel, corn, biscuits, bread crust, crackers, nuts. For esters, sniff roses, herbs, and all kinds of produce. Yes, you will be the weirdo in the market but it works. It builds up real sensory memory.

Off the top of your head, what's the difference between the aroma of a papaya and a guava? It really can't be described. You just know it when you smell it.
 
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As far as sensory targets for malts and esters, stay with me here... smell and taste... actual caramel, corn, biscuits, bread crust, crackers, nuts. For esters, sniff roses, herbs, and all kinds of produce. Yes, you will be the weirdo in the market but it works. It builds up real sensory memory.
+1.
 
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