Definitions of “mouthfeel” run the gambit, yet none do justice to an extraordinarily complex subject. UC Davis and other universities have researched mouthfeel, trying to quantify it with a numeric scale, with no success thus far. Craft beer consumers have used such descriptors as, a creamy feel in your mouth, an almost chewy texture, or a feeling that the beer has a thickness/coating feel that makes the flavor linger for a moment. In all examples, the start of mouthfeel is visual, aromas, taste, and viscosity.
Some years ago, I researched and wrote an article about the importance of mouthfeel in wine. I discovered that viscosity is not the only sensation that dictates great mouthfeel in beer, rather a potpourri of factors. However, viscosity in wine sent a subliminal message of a “quality” wine.
A cacophony of factors dictated mouthfeel of craft beer. Much of mouthfeel is dictated by a person’s accumulated experiences. However, awareness of aromas, visual presentation of a beer, and flavors are sensory queues that initiate how consumers interpret mouthfeel–pleasant or not. Even the issue of time, place, and seasonality will impact a pleasant mouthfeel.
The existence of mouthfeel can also be illustrated as the sensation coming from any substance in your mouth. As an example, most of my life I would not eat oysters because of the visual and the anticipation of the slimy feel of that crustacea in my mouth. My wife will not eat oysters to this day, primarily having to do with the mouthfeel.
Visual appearances of the beer also contribute to the anticipated mouthfeel. Foam/head on a beer is highly preferred versus little or no head, craft beer consumers like foam. In Europe, consumers prefer, and demand beer served with a thick/tight foamed beer because it is more aromatic and bodes an inviting mouthfeel. The head promotes flavor and instant mouthfeel.
Further, the impact of the environment on the mouthfeel. Here is an interesting perspective. There are restaurants that present “Dark Dining” because research has shown that limiting stimuli from surroundings will accentuate food and drink aromas, flavor, and mouthfeel. The thesis is that limiting visual commotion and distractions during the meal adds to the food experience’s flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel. Dark dining has just enough light to see to eat.
Beer aromas, as in wine, sets the stage for what we will experience in the flavors and then mouthfeel/aftertaste. These flavors and aromas are often visually presented in ‘flavor and aroma wheels’ to help us define beer styles we like. The ubiquitous “Beer Flavor Wheel” was developed in the 70’s by Morton Meilgaard, of which he included the Mouthfeel component. The reality is mouthfeel gives substance/recognition to a beer’s flavor while aroma sets the stage.
Note: Hops and yeast give aromas, flavor, appearance, and mouthfeel to beer. The grain bill presents the grain that provides something that the yeast can exert their creativity with.
The chemical process of fermentation (working on the wort) plays an enormous role in creating mouthfeel. Fermentation gives us texture/viscosity, carbonation, alcohol levels (ABV), and acids. Of course, to get a signature mouthfeel, all of this must be orchestrated by knowledgeable brewers selecting the proper yeast.
Ms. Carolyn Smagalski gives a good definition as to significant contributors to mouthfeel in beer. It is contributed by the residual proteins and dextrin’s (generally accepted as a non-fermentable sugar) in beer (especially a Pilsner). Not all starches in malts are converted into fermentable sugars. Proteins are not consumed by yeast, so they are the primary contributor to mouthfeel. Oats in a grain bill can contribute more proteins and the desirable viscosity notes for mouthfeel. Water chemistry is also a contributing factor.
Trying to keep the complicated simple, Adam Robblings of Craft Beer & Brewing puts his take on mouthfeel this way, “For hazy IPAs, the first key decision point isn’t about hops-it’s about yeast. The ester profile, stable haze, and smooth mouthfeel all define hazy IPAs, and those really benefit from specific yeast strains.” So, another vote for yeast.
Craft beer is not the beer of your younger days; it is not the “slam ’em down” beers of old. Craft beer is generally more expensive and is a thoughtful beverage that demands contemplation. There are quality craft beers for every occasion, attitude, and season. In the final analysis, they are all judged for their aromatics, flavor, and mouthfeel. At some point during consumption, all these elements become symbiotic and give us the ‘umami’ we want.
The feel in the mouth we search for has hundreds of elements that finally come together. There are: viscosity/texture, acidity/Ph levels, ABV, esters (hops), yeast strains, grain bill, temperatures, carbonation, head, color, and recipe execution by the brewer. If all of this produces a mouthfeel, taste, and aroma’s that you like based upon your expectations, you have found your beer for the moment.
In a 2020 Statista study, the primary feature of craft beer most important to consumers was taste (94%). Interestingly, approximately 52.7% of craft beer consumers considered themselves to be Very Familiar and Familiar with brewing processes. This indicates that the consumer desires more details about a beer because they understand how Mouthfeel, Taste, and Aromas are derived.
Achieving a good mouthfeel is a complicated endeavor and must be tailored for each beer style. Just ask the folks at Staropramen Brewery is the second largest brewery in the Czech Republic. They think mouthfeel is an incredibly important attribute to their world-famous Pilsner.
Pilsner is one of the most popular beers in the world. Here is how Just Beer defines the style and
Flavor & Aroma:
The malts give Pilsners a grainy or fresh bread flavor. Traditional Pilsners has a pronounced bitterness from the hops, giving it a grassy herbal or earthy character.
Pilseners are highly carbonated with a bit of weight. Their crisp hop bitterness tends to linger in the finish.
How to serve a Pilsner:
Pilsners should be poured with some head/foam. After all, that’s how it’s done in the Czech Republic. 3 fingers worth will usually suffice.
Of all the pilner brewers from the Czech Republic we researched, all mentioned mouthfeel and head as significant factors in consumer evaluations.
Mouthfeel is hard to define and is somewhat rooted in subjective evaluations. Don’t give up because there are a lot of “ah ha” moments when that perfect mouthfeel shows up. Just consuming a craft beer casually or paired with food can bring on the moment when that great mouthfeel arrives.