A great beer begins with appearance, aroma, then comes the flavor and texture, and finally the “finish” (a more elegant word for “aftertaste”). What to look for -- There are five categories to evaluating a beer:
Note the beer's color, carbonation, head, and its retention. Is it clear or cloudy? Does it look lackluster and dull OR alive and inviting? The greatest beers often have colors that are distinctive, subtle, complex and appetizingly attractive.
A gentle swirl disturbs the beer enough to help release its aromatic compounds. Bring the beer to your nose, note the beer's aromatic qualities.
Malts: sweet, roasty, smoky, toasty, chocolaty, nutty, caramelly, biscuity?
Hops: dank / resiny, herbal, perfumy, spicy, leafy, grassy, floral, piney, citrusy?
Yeast will also create aromas. You might get fruity or flowery aromas from ales and very clean aromas from lagers, which will allow the malt and hop subtleties to pull through.
Great beer has taste. It need not be high in alcohol, but it is full of flavor. Take a deep sip of the beer. Note any flavors or interpretations of flavors that you might discover. The descriptions will be similar to what you smell. Is there a balance between the ingredients ? Was the beer brewed with a specific dominance of character in mind? How does it fit the style?
Take another sip and let it wander. Note how the beer feels on the palate and its body. Light, heavy, chewy, thin / watery, smooth, or coarse? Was the beer flat or over-carbonated?
Bland beers have no finish. Drinkers are left wondering whether they just had a beer or simply breathed some wet air. Great beers have a long, lingering aftertaste. As with wine, tasters talk of “length.”
What's a beer style? Simply put, a beer style is a label given to a beer that describes its overall character and often times is origin. It's a name badge that has been achieved over many centuries of brewing, trial and error, marketing, and consumer acceptance. Our styles reflect our spin on the constantly evolving world of beer, with non-geek descriptions broken down for all to understand.
What's an ALE?
This category of beer uses yeast that ferments at the top of the fermentation vessel, and typically at higher temperatures than lager yeast, which as a result makes for a quicker fermentation period. Ale yeast are known to produce by-products called esters which are "flowery" and "fruity" aromas ranging (but not limited to) apple, pear, pineapple, grass, hay, plum, and prune.
What's a LAGER?
The word lager comes from the German word "lagers" which means "to store". A perfect description as lagers are brewed with bottom fermenting yeast that work slowly and are often further stored at cool temperatures to mature. Lager yeast produce fewer by-product characters than ale yeast which allows for other flavors to pull through, such as hops.