One of the biggest challenges when brewing large batches of beer is ensuring that the beer maintains a consistent level of quality every time it leaves the brewery and enters the market.
In addition to our tightly controlled brewing process and robust quality lab, another way to ensure we do this is to run an in-house beer sensory program so that our beers meet “true brand” standards before they leave the brewery.
The beer sensory program involves regular and ongoing testing of beer samples by a select group of brewery staff from the perspective of taste, smell and mouthfeel.
Their role as members of the sensory team is to identify any quality differences in the test batches through smell, taste, sight and touch.
Sensory development (through fault and taste training and sensory expert assessment), combined with ongoing exposure and experience, enables sensory experts to identify these quality variables.
In 2019, we published an article on how to integrate our initial beer sensory program. You can read it here. Since then, we’ve taken things to the next level with our sensory testing courses. Here are our latest results and the rest of the work we’ve done.
Currently, our testing team has 53 employees and about 25 testers conduct an average of 13 different sensory tests per week. The group sessions are usually limited to about 10 people.
When conducting daily group discussions, our goal is to get results from at least 10 panelists. This provides a good spread of answers and more effective results, however,
some people may find it difficult to attend brewery meetings during the day (whether they are off-site salespeople or busy restaurant staff with no time to spare). Therefore, another new and very unique element we introduced to our sensory program is our “sensory at home” program.
We have a refrigerator with daily samples that we can take home and test. We prepared a guide for our team to help them set up a suitable sensory environment at home and let them do this in their own time.
This has led to a significant increase in team member attendance, which means more data – and more data leads to better beer!
The value of including the majority of employees in the program is twofold. In addition to building a large group of participants,
it encourages all employees to feel a part of our quality program, empowers them through training, and gives them the confidence to speak up anytime they think there is a problem with our beer.
When we first set up our sensory testing program, our main focus was to equip employee testing teams with equipment to identify the different (often subtle) aspects and attributes that make up a beer, defining sensory characteristics such as flavor, aroma and mouthfeel.
A major component of the test is centered around “faults and flavors,” in which team members are given a series of samples of spiked beer as well as a control beer sample and will see, smell and taste each sample to identify one of the following irregular attributes.
Acetaldehyde: green apple
Lactic acid: sour
Dimethyl sulfide (DMS): sweet corn/cooked cabbage
Diacetyl: butter/butter candy
Isoamyl acetate: banana
Since then, we have also held weekly sensory training sessions to help employees identify the characteristics of beer, rather than the taste. These include.
Sensory testing of ingredients, where we can smell the hops and taste grains and auxiliary ingredients such as spices and yeast.
During the course, we tasted a range of beers from the bottle store “blind” to taste specific styles (such as pale ales), including our own pale ales, and then compared the results
We evaluate the water from the different processes in the brewery for the course.
Evaluate beers at different stages of the brewing process (e.g. wort, day 4, day 10, day 15, etc.)
Compare beers at different ages. For example, 15, 45, 90135 and 210 day old pale ales.
Comparing warm storage vs. cold storage for different vintages of beer.
Use aroma criteria (a set of known specific aromas, such as pine) and ask our panelists to correctly identify each known aroma.
This helps ensure that all testers are on the same page when identifying aromas in a beer, rather than accidentally reporting conflicting aroma reports, and will help bring us closer together as a brewery to share knowledge.
As with all things related to the human senses, each person is very different and some people are genetically blind to certain tastes while others can detect certain tastes at the lowest threshold level and being able to determine this is very valuable.
Most people usually improve over time through regular exposure to each compound, which is why it’s important to stay trained.
As always, if you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below.