Some members of our club recently had the opportunity to sit down with a sensory evaluation kit to learn a little more about some of the flavors and aromas that can be found in beers. Some of these elements were familiar, and some were less common. Some were downright bizarre/disgusting. But we got through the first third of the total of twenty four flavor elements and we learned some very interesting things along the way.
One of the things that stood out most to me was the way the different components affected each of us differently.
In case you’re wondering what this sensory eval kit is all about, the way it works is this:
- We started with a base beer (in our case this was Beast Light, because that’s what I picked up cheap on the way to the tasting.)
- We poured one liter (approx. three cans of beer) into a pitcher and tainted that pitcher with one of the flavor vials that came in the sensory kit.
- After mixing well and pouring samples for each attendee, we evaluated the samples against untainted glasses of the same base beer. This allowed us to see how each element affected the flavor, aroma and often our overall perception of the beer.
Have you ever tasted a beer and known that SOMETHING was off, but didn’t know how to describe it or what might have caused the problem? Part of what this series of classes is teaching us, as brewers, is how to identify the flavors that might show up in our beers; or beers we’re tasting at meetings and events; and tie them to a specific chemical or precursor that is the root of that flavor we’re perceiving.
For example, one of the flavor components we tested was diacetyl. Diacetyl is an organic compound with the chemical formula (CH₃CO)₂. It has an intensely buttery flavor. Diacetyl can show up in your beer for a number of reasons, but it is typically a result of yeast activity. Read up more on diacetyl here. This chemical is something brewers often talk about, but experimenting with tasting beer intentionally tainted with this compound can give new insight into what diacetyl actually does to a beer.
Another big one we hit in this session was Dimethyl Sulfide or DMS. DMS gives an aroma/flavor perception most commonly associated with cooked corn. This is another flavor you will hear a lot of brewers talk about. Personally, I didn’t have nearly the reaction to this element as most of the other brewers present. On the other hand, there were some samples that seemed very intense in flavor or aroma to me that others seemed not to be able to pick up at all.
That brings me back to what I said earlier about the differences in perception across even a small grouping of fairly experienced brewers. Everyone’s taste perceptions are different and the thresholds at which we notice tastes and smells vary. The flavor kit we were using was calibrated to provide three times the level of flavor at which most people will begin to notice it.
Overall, this has been a very useful and educational experiment and we aren’t done yet. There will be two more sessions to finish out the total of twenty four flavor vials that came with the kit. The next session will be held on Monday, June 16th at 6:00 PM. Location is Mike Knaub’s house. This session is open to any member who wishes to attend. If you would like to participate, shoot me an email (use the contact form if you don’t know the address.) Hope to see you there.
Knowledge is power.