Noob Brewer Question: When to Taste?

Okay, so Sunday’s Brew Day and I’m wondering when I should taste what I’m making.  When I cook, I’ll take a little taste now and again to see how things are coming, and add a dash of this or that to get the flavor on course.  My wife on the other hand is big on measuring and following recipes and never tastes anything she cooks, and her stuff turns out well, too.

This leads to my noob brewer question of the day: Do I take tastes while brewing, and if so, when?

I know my wort won’t taste like beer, but I want to start training my palate to know what’s going on as I brew.  Should I taste the wort?  Should I taste the brew after it’s diluted in the carboy?  Or is it pointless and awful tasting to boot?

I know folks will pop a bottle open early to see how things are coming, but I’m not sure if there are indications of future flavor available while the brew is being made.   As always, any insights are appreciated by the brewing braintrust that frequents this site.  Thanks!

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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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18 Comments on “Noob Brewer Question: When to Taste?”

  1. March 5, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Every step of the way. I taste everything. I always pour a tiny bit off at every step just to taste.

    • March 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

      That’s what I thought. I need to learn that A leads to B leads to C taste-wise and taking samples is a way to do that. I’m not sure I’l ever be able to know what the final beer will taste like by adding the wort, but I have a pretty good predictive palate (just made that up) when it comes to cooking and can usually taste a few steps ahead. Thanks, Brian.

  2. Don
    March 5, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    I had it characterized to me this way Jim, it is like the difference between cooking and baking. When you cook, you create and invent. You can take flavors different ways depending on spices etc. When you bake it is a chemical reaction that requires measurement and above all patience. By beer guy tried home brewing and gave it up, because he said while he is a good cook, he is a terrible baker. He isn’t precise enough or patient enough to home brew. I’m not saying you shouldn’t taste, but the flavors are going to be quite different pre-fermentation than they will be once it is bottled and conditioned. Kind of like the difference between cake dough and a finished cake. You can take a taste of the dough as it is being mixed etc, but that won’t tell you the full story like eating a piece of cake will. So I agree with Brian, go ahead and taste, because as you get into it, those flavors will begin to mean something to you, but it probably won’t be a great indication as to how the brew will taste once you pop the top off of your first fully conditioned bottle. Have fun Bro.

    • March 5, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

      Good analogy, big bro. That explains why my wife is a better baker and I’m a better cook. She’s about precision and I’m about throwing it together and tasting as I go.

      I think brewing beer is more about precision and notation, but imagine the beer tasting palate you’d have if you developed an ability to understand what a wort will taste like when it’s fermented by tasting as you go. You’d be able to take almost any finished beer and pick out the malts, the hops, the yeast used, how it was fermented, etc. As a matter of fact, that’s why I’m brewing, to gain a better appreciation for what I’m tasting.

      • Don
        March 5, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

        Who knows, if we get good at brewing maybe we will start a brewery too!

      • March 5, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

        Yeah, it could be in Iowa, so we’d both only have a 15 hour commute!

        • Don
          March 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

          We could call it “Two Dumb Asses Brewing”.

        • March 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

          Maybe we’d call our brewery “Double Donkey” and let people figure out the rest…

        • Don
          March 5, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

          Or perhaps “Double Dumb Donkey” so we leave no doubt!

        • March 5, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

          Oh, there’ll be no doubt, Don…

  3. March 5, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    With having read the post yet, all I gotta say Jim, your gonna be on heck of a geek brewer! Kudos to you for asking so many questions. make sure you kiss you wife and kids goodbye tomorrow before you brew, cause you’ll be a changed man! 🙂

    Now that I’ve read your post…

    My advice, do what feel right. With your first 10 batches your not going to know it the wort is right or wrong, but you will start training your palette for future corrections. Me I Only taste out of the primary and secondary.

    • March 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

      I hope I turn into a heck of geek brewer, Peter. I’m totally getting sucked into this so far, that’s for sure! Thanks god my wife is a good baker (and research scientist) who loves beer and wants to help. I just have to be careful to not take off and leave her in the dust. She’s interested at this point and I’m totally obsessed!

  4. March 5, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    Like Brian said, I taste every step of the way. I try some of the malt and hops before I brew, and then take a sip of my hydrometer readers along the way to see how it progresses. It’s cool to see how the beer changes between brew day and bottle day.

    I actually had something interesting happen to me recently while brewing. After cooling the wort I took a sample for an original gravity reading but had to put it in a plastic water bottle since I forgot my hydrometer inside. I was going to pour the sample in to the hydrometer right after but forgot for 4 days. Last night I opened up the water bottle a burst of air shot out and the beer foamed like crazy. It had started fermenting in the water bottle from wild yeasts that were in there (remember, no yeast was added when I took the sample).

    So what did I do? Drank it of course. It actually tasted pretty good and had a nice funk to it ; ) So taste away!

    • March 5, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

      That’s pretty cool, Billy. Maybe it’s worth putting a little wort aside each time and playing around with it.

      I’m absolutely going to taste the hops and the malt and the extracts (yes even the extracts) before I throw them in to get a sense of what the “raw” ingredients taste like. I have a feeling I’ll learn a lot doing so.

  5. Big Tex
    March 5, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    Taste it as you please… I taste every step of the way. As Peter said above, it helps train your palate. I even taste the wort prior to boiling (during the sparging process). I am always amazed at how sweet it is!

    • March 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

      I can’t wait to dig in! I think Peter is right, I’d better kiss my family goodbye (or teach them how to brew)!

  6. March 5, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    I’m late on this one. I taste it. Further, taste some of the grains before the steeping, you might pick them out in the taste of the beer. I love to taste the stuff as it comes along because I can feel the shape of the beer coming along. Just don’t taste the spoon and put it back in once you’ve turned off the boil.

    • March 5, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

      I actually thought of the ramifications of putting the spoon back into the mix once the boil is off. Maybe my brewing paranoia is paying off after all!

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