Kinds and Qualities of Beer

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Beers are a wonderfully diverse group of drinks, and a good beer can be a mouth-filling experience, one that rewards slow savoring. There are several qualities worth appreciating:
  • Color, which can range from pale yellow to impenetrable brown-black, and comes from the kinds of malt used
  • Body, or weightiness in the mouth, which comes from the long remnants of starch molecules in the malt
  • Astringency, from malt phenolic compounds
  • Prickly freshness, from dissolved carbon dioxide
  • Taste, which may include saltiness from the water, sweetness from unfermented malt sugars, acidity from roasted malt and from fermentation microbes, bitterness from hops and from dark-roasted malts, savoriness from malt amino acids
  • Aroma, from woody, floral, citrusy hops; malty, caramel, and even smoky malt; and from the yeasts and other microbes, which can produce notes that seem fruity (apple, pear, banana, citrus), flowery (rose), buttery, spicy (clove), and even horsey or stable-like