I wrote yesterday that I’m in the process of trying to learn more about tasting beer. It is, as they say, a mileage sport. I used to teach a wine-tasting class, and I told my students that the best way to learn about wine was to drink it consciously. It’s that “consciously” part that’s important. When you try a wine and you like it, it’s important to ask, “What do I like about this wine?” Then you figure out what clues you get from the label that tells you those elements are there. So if you find that you like crisp, white wines with bracing acidity, you can start paying attention to what varieties and regions are most likely to give you wines like that.1 The goal is to make it easier to find wines that you like, so that you can spend more time drinking them and not wines you don’t.
I developed my knowledge about wine by doing two things early in my wine-tasting career: reading a lot and tasting a lot. Two books in particular were invaluable to me: Great Wine Made Simple and The Wine Bible. The former broke down the process of evaluating a wine into components I could start to wrap my head around. Until I knew what elements were be present in wine (in the flavor, for example, fruit, tannin, acidity, and alcohol) I not only couldn’t describe wine, I couldn’t actually make sense of what I was tasting. The latter equipped me with knowledge about what grapes are grown where and in what styles so I had a clue of which of those elements were likely to be present. When I combined the tasting techniques and the wine knowledge to all the wine-tasting I was doing, I knew what to taste for and had words to describe it. 
This is what’s been missing in my beer tasting. Fortunately, I’ve found something to help me, specifically, the Beer Judging Certification Program style guidelines. These break down different styles and sub-styles of beer and describe what competition judges should be looking for. Even better, they’re available as an iPhone app. And as it turns out, reading these while drinking beer suddenly improved my beer tasting ability.
So the other night when I was drinking a Dunkelweiss, I read over what a beer competition judge would be looking for. When I saw “Low to moderately strong banana and clove flavor” my brain said, “Ah, that’s what that is.” So I looked at the adjacent Weizen/Weissbier category, I realized those aromas and flavors are what this beer and the hefeweizens I’ve been enjoying have in common.
And just like that beer started to be like wine for me.
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 87 words, 274 seven-day average, 258 average, 21667 total
1 Which means you probably want to be drinking Sauvignon Blancs that are fermented in stainless steel, like those from New Zealand, the Loire Valley in France, and certain California wineries.
2 This is the Kolb Learning Cycle in action.