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When tasting wine, it is often suggested that tasters do not swallow the wine, but simply taste as necessary and then spit into a bucket/spittoon of some sort. This, of course, aids in the tasting of large amounts of wine without the effect of the alcohol (getting drunk).

In casual tastings among friends, part of the fun is obviously getting drunk. However, I've been wondering if judges at competitions or more formal tasting venues (possibly breweries themselves) use spittoons.

To put it in the form of a question: Are spittoons ever used for beer tasting?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

To my knowledge, the answer is always no.

To fully experience the flavor of beer, one must swallow it. This is because, unlike the vast majority of wine, beer is carbonated (albeit to varying degrees). When you swallow beer, some of the carbonation escapes the liquid as gas, and actually rises up from your throat into your nose (or, at least, into your nasal passages), carrying with it some of the flavor molecules of the beer. Thus your sense of smell combines with your sense of taste to produce an overall sense of flavor in a manner that is different from what occurs when you drink (uncarbonated) wine.

If you spit out your beer, you're ruining the experience.

(This explanation is based on one that I heard years ago from a brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch. I can't remember his exact words, but you get the gist.)

On a side note, regarding the important relationship between taste and smell, I'm sure you will see tasters at both beer tastings and especially wine tastings swirl their drink a bit to smell it from the glass before tasting it. The difference is that carbonated beverages pack a smell double-whammy coming at you after you swallow.

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3  
This is exactly correct - I was just about to write this until I saw your answer. It's not about the tongue but about the aromatics. You can get a similar sensation by holding the beer in your mouth while breathing in at the same time, pulling air over the beer. But it's far easier, and less noisy to just swallow it! –  mdma Feb 5 at 5:53
    
The human tongue is only equipped to detect five flavours (bitter, salt, sour, sweet, and umami). Everything else that we think of as flavour is the result of the nose doing its job rather than the tongue, or in fact both acting together. This is true for both wine and beer. So perhaps you could think of the swallowing of beer in tastings to the sniffing of wines. –  hippietrail Mar 30 at 3:58

Not generally.

The aftertaste of beer is more important than it is in wine, and much of the aftertaste comes from swallowing.

Also, beer isn't generally as alcoholic as wine, so the risk of getting drunk on a taste is lower. Although some beers can be in the 10-12% range, the average abv is much lower.

Further, although the idea of a tongue map has been relatively discredited in scientific circles, it was taught in schools for a long time. As such, many people (including beer judges) incorrectly believe you taste bitterness with the back of your tongue. Since bitterness is a much larger part of beer than wine, many believe you need to swallow to properly taste it.

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I've never seen a beer taster spit out beer. I think "not generally" should be a firm "no". –  mdma Feb 5 at 5:54
1  
I hedged my answer a bit because I haven't been involved with that many beer tastings. Although I couldn't find any resources advocating spitting, I wasn't confident enough to rule out the idea that some judge somewhere does it. –  Fishtoaster Feb 5 at 5:56
    
Where, by "relatively discredited", you mean "has been known to be complete bunk since before it was even proposed." :-) –  David Richerby Feb 5 at 10:14

Spitoon? No. Bucket for dumping the remainder? Yes. I agree with the other posters, with the addition that in the ONE competition I've judged in as a Novice, as Sloleam points out, we typically did not finish the 2-3 oz or so that was poured, and the remainder was dumped in a bucket. According to the BJCP guidelines, you sniff it, look at it, taste it (allowing it to linger before swallowing). That's it. After that, you typically dump the rest in a bucket, especially if you are going to be judging several categories :)

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No. While in a wine tasting it's acceptable to spit out the wine, in beer tasting you actually have to drink the beer. I don't remember the exact reasoning since it's been a few years since my Beers of the World class, but I think it had something to do with the carbonation affecting the after taste if you don't swallow the beer. Keep in mind that while judging beers at a tasting you only get ~2 ounces, so it's easier to pace yourself and dump out anything past what you need to get your impression. Half of beer judge training is learning to quickly assess flavor.

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As far as I've seen, no. The reason has nothing to do with alcohol content or getting drunk (some beers like Belgian tripels, imperial stouts, or barley wines can easily clock in at a higher ABV than wines). It's got more to do with the human tongue itself and how taste buds are organized on the tongue. Essentially, beer is a much more complex drink; beer tasters use all of their taste buds while wine drinkers may only use a select few. So when you drink beer, you're not going to be overwhelming any set of taste buds unevenly while you run that risk when drinking wine. Generally when drinking wine, you're only using your sweet and sour sets of taste buds. For instance, I don't know about you, but I've never really had a bitter wine. I've had sweet or sour wines, but never bitter or salty wines. On the other hand, I've had all of that with beer.

If you look at the diagram of the tongue below, you'll notice that the bitter taste bud receptors are on the back of the tongue. In order to reach these receptors and taste the beer to its fullest, you must swallow the beer.

enter image description here

If you're curious, see page 3-4 of this article. It goes into much more detail: http://www.gabc-boston.org/_Newsl/2012_11.pdf

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The "tongue map" model of taste is a misconception -- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongue_map –  HC_ Feb 4 at 20:39
    
No, no, one hundred times no. Although it's widely taught, the idea that different parts of the tongue are responsible for different taste sensations is completely untrue. –  David Richerby Feb 5 at 10:17

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