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 The BJCP  The Denver Tasting Lab

What does mouthfeel mean?

Jeremy Short · Nov. 6

 

Maybe you've read a beer review on some site and ran into the phrase mouthfeel and thought wow that sounds gross. Well that's what I thought. What a weird phrase, right? I assumed it simply meant what a beer feels like in your mouth. It feels like liquid! That seems like a silly thing to rate a beer on.

The short answer to what is mouthfeel: Yeah, it really does just mean what the beer feels like in your mouth.

Why should you care how a beer feels? Because it’s part of the experience of drinking beer and if the feel of a beer is off it can impact your experience of the beer. Okay, fellow bored internet reader, here the comprehensive answer to your question. There are several aspects of mouthfeel that you can look for when drinking your next beer: astringency, body, carbonation, creaminess and warmth. Each of these are things you want and/or don’t want in your beer and it depends mostly on the style of beer you’re drinking.

Astringency

Astringency is the puckering or drying out of your mouth. This one can easily be confused with bitterness and to help distinguish these two things think about astringency as something you feel as opposed to something you taste. Astringency is often a result of tannins (something you want to avoid in most beers). There are a few styles out there were tannins are more than welcome such as sour ales. Yep, that puckering and drying out sensation you experienced from that sour ale you tasted is astringency. This is part of the fun of a sour ale but astringency in just about every other style is something to avoid.

Body

This is something that I look for with every beer I drink and when it’s off it can ruin a beer for me. Body refers to the thickness or viscosity of the beer. A light bodied beer would be close to the thickness of water whereas a full bodied tilts closer to syrup. You can really get a sense of this by trying something like a Coors Light and a Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout at the same time. The body of a beer is determined by the remaining sugars that are left over after fermentation. The more sugar the more body. In Gordon Strong’s book Brewing Better Beer he has a great way to help think about body in beer: light bodied beers are like skim milk, medium body is similar to the feel of whole milk and full bodied beers have the same sensation or weight as cream.

Carbonation

This one is straight forward. Some beers have a lot of bubbles and some beers don’t. Carbonation is created by the absorption of carbon dioxide into the beer (or in fancy beers the absorption of a nitrogen/CO2 mix). A general but inexact way to think about this is that lighter bodied beers tend to have higher levels of CO2 than beers with more booze and a fuller body. The main exceptions to this being English style ales that tend to be towards the lower end of the carbonation scale because of their cask conditioning and big Belgian beers which often have a good amount of carbonation. Carbonation can enhance the aromatics of a beer by lifting the aroma right out of the glass. It can also contribute to cleaning the flavors from your palate. Too much carbonation results in an unpleasant biting sensation known as carbonic bite and can render some beers undrinkable. Luckily you can let a heavily carbonated beer sit around for a bit and drop some of that CO2. There are few flaws so easily corrected.    

Creaminess

Creaminess seems like an odd sensation to experience while enjoying a beer yet you will find it in many different styles. Some yeast strains or ingredients such as oats can give a beer a bit of a smooth slickness on your tongue. That’s creaminess. Many stouts feature a cream like quality.  

Warmth

Here’s one that’s easily understood with a shot of whisky. Perhaps now is a good time to step up from your computer head over to the liquor cabinet and pour yourself a small shot. Done? Okay, yeah, that’s warmth. The experience of heat should never be harsh and in lower ABV beers shouldn't even be noticeable. For big beers you’re looking for well aged alcohol that has smoothed out and has a pleasant warming quality and not a punch you in the face burn out your nose hairs quality.

Sadness

This is the “feeling” you get when you beer glass is empty. This is the most difficult aspect to mouthfeel because it’s just a deep dark place where no flavor exists.  

And that it. Okay, I wouldn't call this all encompassing but it will give your tasting skills a nice bump to think about these things when tasting beer. It also will help with the experience of flavors. Many of these components can directly enhance or lessens the intensity of specific flavors. If you're want to know more I would suggest checking out Gordon Strong's book Brewing Better Beer it has a great chapter on beer evaluation or check out our post on how to control mouthfeel in your homebrew

 

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