The Beer Flavor Wheel, Or How To Begin Tasting Beer

I’ve been drinking beer a while now. Not as long as many, nor as long as I could have been. See, back in high school I had my first Budweiser (sorry mom and dad) and thought that it tasted like something you’d find in a urinal. Disgusting. I couldn’t stand the stuff. Maybe it was my immature palate, but there it was.

Years later, when I grew old enough to buy my own alcohol, I became enamored with the wine scene. All of the grape varietals, blends, terroir… it all made sense to me. The flavors were similarly delicious: fruits, grass, oak, spice. It’s where I cut my chops on learning how to taste, the old school way. Tasting and more tasting.

When I discovered craft beer those few years later, I realized that what I had learned with wine could help me in the beer world, and it did. A lot of those grassy and spicy characters I could pick up, but there were new ones. Hop bitterness. Carbonation. Massive yeast character. I needed a new language.

That’s where the flavor wheel comes into play.

It’s a relatively simple tool, yet super handy when it comes to analyzing what you’re drinking. You can move about it like the Circle of Fifths in music. Each region is coded to place similar flavors and aromas together so that you can see where certain ones are related. It’s one of my favorite tools in the toolbox after experience.

So grab a beer, hopefully a new and unexpected one, break out the flavor wheel, and see what you can get out of your next pint.