Beer tasting and scoring

Picture: Mike Finn-Kelcey
Written by Sandie Taylor

Lots of you wanted more information about beer tasting and the national beer scoring system. I have given you some general notes about how to taste beer and also some information about beer scoring. In the future I plan to give you information on the different styles of beer e.g. mild, stout, IPA etc.

It never ceases to amaze me that using only three or four basic ingredients, water, yeast, malted barley and hops the brewer is able to produce such a myriad of different styles and flavours.

Beer tasting

You will soon learn which beers most appeal to your taste buds, whether it’s a chocolate stout, a thirst quenching bitter or light, floral golden ale.
The first step is to make sure the beer you taste is served at the right temperature. Too cold and real ale loses most of its complex flavours. Served too warm, it can develop some flavours you don’t want and quickly loses condition in the glass.

1. Use your eyes

Beer should look good. It should be bright, colourful and clear. If it is meant to have a significant head of froth, this should be thick and creamy. Those beers that have been brewed without having finings added may be cloudy for example wheat beers, but these too should look attractive. Generally, your beer should be bright and clear and your glass should not contain any sediment.

2. Use your nose

The best way to sniff your beer is with a glass which is half-empty. Difficult when you first get your pint. Most pubs will let you try a little of the beer before you buy your pint. This enables you to give it a quick swirl, place your hand over the glass to hold in the lovely aromas fighting to escape and then dive in and take a nice deep breath. You will soon learn to recognize key features such as hoppiness from a classic Indian pale ale, the burnt chocolate malt flavours of a stout or the banana nose of a wheat beer.

3. Now the taste!

As you take your first taste of the beer you’ll notice the sweetness from the malted barley at the front of your mouth and dry bitter flavours from the hops at the back of your mouth. As you swallow the beer learn to appreciate the ‘finish’, the lingering aftertaste.

Just like wine, beers have their own unique characteristics and complexities from the style, the ingredients and the recipe. Beer can be enjoyed on its own, but it is also exceptionally good with food! Experiment and you’ll soon become skilled in matching different beers to different food dishes.

Enjoying with food

When it comes to dining, beer is being given a major push by brewers and beer writers as an accompaniment to food. With the variety of flavours derived from different hop strains and ingredients, different beers are able to contrast and complement a range of different tastes and dishes.

Here are some suggested beer and food matches.


Soup Vegatable Pale Bitters
Meaty Malty Ales
Shellfish Stouts, Porters or Belgian Wheat Beers
Fish German Lagers, Light Bitters, Belgian Wheat Beers
Pâté Milds, Strong Dark Lagers
Quiches/soufflés Light Bitters


Beef Full-bodied bitters
Pork Pilsners, Bavarian Wheat Beers, Strong Dark Lagers
Lamb Spicy Malty Ales, Dark Lagers
Chicken Lagers, Wheat Beers
Turkey Malty Ales
Duck Kriek (Cherry) Beers
Game Malty Ales, Trappist Ales
Sausages Full-bodied Bitters, Dark Lagers, Bavarian Wheat Beers
Meat Pies Full-bodied bitters
Barbecue Smoked Beers, Dark Lagers
Oriental Wheat Beers, Ginger/Spiced Beers
Curries Strong IPAs, Premium Lagers
Salads Floral-hopped Bitters, Nutty, Malty Ales, Wheat Beers
Pizzas Malty Lagers
Plougman’s Hoppy, Fruity Bitters
Cheeses Mild Light Bitters
Medium Full-bodied Ales
Mature/Blue Trappist Ales, Old Ales, Barley Wines


Chocolate/Coffee Stouts, Porters, Belgian Fruit Beers
Red Berry Porters
Apple/Banana Bavarian Wheat Beers
Creamy Stouts
Spiced Bavarian Wheat Beers

These guidelines have been taken from CAMRA’s Good Bottled Beer Guide 8th Edition, by Jeff Evans.

National Beer Scoring System

Scoring beer in pubs is really easy!

The National Beer Scoring System (NBSS) is a 0-5 (0 = No cask ale available) point scale for judging beer quality in pubs. It is designed to help monitor beer quality by encouraging CAMRA members to report it on any pub in the UK.

The system has also been adopted by some CAMRA branches to select pubs in their area for the Good Beer Guide. In South Herts we have our own selection procedures for Good Beer Guide selection but as part of these we incorporate the scores of pubs that have achieved a score of over 4 for their beer twice during the branch selection qualifying period of July to September each year.

If you are a CAMRA member, as an incentive, when you score a beer you are entered into a prize draw to win free CAMRA books!

How do I score my beer?

You can score your beer online at home or if you have a smart phone in the pub!

To submit your scores just visit whatpub.com, log in using your CAMRA membership number and password, find the pub and click “Submit scores”.

What do the scores mean?

0 No cask ale available.
1 Poor. Beer that is anything from barely drinkable to drinkable with considerable resentment.
2 Average. Competently kept, drinkable pint but doesn’t inspire in any way, not worth moving to another pub but you drink the beer without really noticing.
3 Good. Good beer in good form. You may cancel plans to move to the next pub. You want to stay for another pint and may seek out the beer again.
4 Very Good. Excellent beer in excellent condition.
5 Perfect. Probably the best you are ever likely to find. A seasoned drinker will award this score very rarely.

For more information please visit whatpub.com/beerscoring.

The National Beer Scoring System is co-ordinated by Brett Laniosh.

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