ONE OF THE most important things you can do as a craft beer lover is take good notes.
That might seem like an odd statement, but there are a number of reasons to collect tasting notes on beers you've tried. That goes for any beer, whether it made you so excited that you texted your friends midway through a bottle, or was so vile you poured it down the drain.
These notes help you formulate a baseline for your palate and allow you to recognize how your palate changes over time. For example, when I first started keeping a beer journal in 2011, it was full of pale Belgian beers. Wits, Tripels, Goldens were all well represented, with glowing notes about yeast profiles, degrees of refreshment and residual sweetnesses.
Over the last two years, my drinking habits have become much more varied, with Russian Imperial Stouts, porters and farmhouse ales filling up my glasses. While I still love a good Tripel, I've noticed that some of my old favorites simply aren't as exciting to me any more.
Likewise, some beers I initially despised are now some of my favorites. The beers haven't changed, but I have developed an appreciation for their styles and craftsmanship.
Keeping a beer log is also a way to "tick" beers off your list. Making a record of having tried that beer lets you know whether you should buy it again, buy extra to cellar or avoid it at all costs.
You'd be surprised how many times I've stared at the rows of beer at Habersham Beverage Warehouse wondering if I'd tried a particular seasonal before. For example, I was surprised to see White Oak from The Bruery on a recent shopping excursion. It's a blended ale comprised of 50% Golden Strong ale and 50% wheatwine aged in bourbon barrels.
That certainly sounds right up my alley. I pulled out my tasting notes and not only had I tried the beer last year, my notes included an imperative to hoard as many bottles as possible.
Keith Dion, a bartender at Green Truck Pub, has been keeping a spreadsheet of tasting notes for several years, and has logged over 1,800 different beers. He makes notes on the beer's style, his tasting experience, the beer's availability (year round, seasonal or one-off) and location or origin. Finally, each beer gets a rating on a five-point scale and an associated letter grade for quick reference.
His notetaking started when he realized he was forgetting beers he had tried.
"It still bothers me that I can't remember so many of the great beers I tried in Switzerland and Scotland when we vacationed there," he says. "It simply started as a way for me to remember what I've had, and what to avoid in the future."
Learning how to detect subtle elements that influence a beer's taste takes time and patience. Transcribing those visceral qualities into words never gives the full impact of tasting a pour, but with time you develop a shorthand that helps you remember qualities you love or loathe.
In the past, one difficulty was sharing tasting notes with friends. Emailing an Excel spreadsheet or scanning a handwritten journal may capture a snapshot in time, but these methods don't make it easy to compare notes or refer to them at a moment's notice. As soon as you add a new beer, the old static list is outdated.
Like so many "First World Problems," this has been fixed by a smartphone app. Untappd is an app for iOS and Android that allows you to "check in" to the beers you've tried.
You can assign each beer a "cap" rating between one and five, with one being a drain pour and five being nirvana. You can also add your tasting notes, a photo and the location where you enjoyed your beer.
You can choose friends on Untappd's social network with whom you can share check-ins, and they can comment and virtually toast your selection. You can also add beers to a wishlist, which makes for handy reference next time you're in a bottle shop or bar with an extensive draft list.
Dion continues to update his private beer reviews spreadsheet, but he's also found a use for Untappd. In the two years he's been using Untappd, he's logged an incredible 1,575 check-ins for over 1,000 different beers.
"Untappd certainly helps me to remember particular details about a beer when I'm not at my desk writing a review in real time," he says. "I'd say I enjoy the social aspect of it best. It's fun to see what people are drinking and their opinions of the beer."
Untappd is available as a web app at untappd.com and as a free smartphone app for iOS and Android devices.