This is the second part to a three (?) part set of articles covering how to train a sensory panel to perform descriptive profiling. It covers Intensity training and descriptive profiling lexicon (ballot) development.
What do we have here? Another Beer Sensory Science article? Yeah, maybe a few. I just recently gave a talk about something related to this, so I thought it might make a good subject for a blog article. It’s a lengthy topic, so I may be breaking it up into multiple entries. The trick will be posting them all within the same calendar year…
Here’s descriptors for another guest beer we’ve tasted on our panel. Again, panelists do not know what these samples are until after the descriptive profiling session is complete.
Lagunitas Czech Pilsner. I tried to get a little information about this beer from their website, but all I found was a strange diatribe which reminded of the essays that Stone Brewing puts on their bottles. So I’ll just copy BeerAdvocate.com’s description of a Czech Pilsner:
The birth of Pilsner beer can be traced back to its namesake, the ancient city of Plzen (or Pilsen) which is situated in the western half of the Czech Republic in what was once Czechoslovakia and previously part of the of Bohemian Kingdom. Pilsner beer was first brewed back in the 1840’s when the citizens, brewers and maltsters of Plzen formed a brewer’s guild and called it the People’s Brewery of Pilsen.
The Czech Pilsner, or sometimes known as the Bohemian Pilsner, is light straw to golden color and crystal clear. Hops are very prevalent usually with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavor and aroma, notably one of the defining characteristics of the Saaz hop. Smooth and crisp with a clean malty palate, many are grassy. Some of the originals will show some archaic yeast characteristics similar to very mild buttery or fusel (rose like alcohol) flavors and aromas.
Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 4.5-5.5%
Our panel’s terms for this beer:
Low hop aroma
Aside from the oxidized and slightly skunky notes, this beer wasn’t terrible. It seemed to lack some of the spicy hop characters common in Czech Pilsners, but it did have that grainy/cereal-type flavors common in European-styled lagers. It’s BeerAdvocate grade is a B, but when it’s in good shape I might give it a bit higher grade.
As I’ve mentioned previously, every taste panel I administer terminates with a blind tasting of a “competitor’s” beer sample [I put “competitor’s” in quotes because I may include some of our own beer in on rare occasions]. The only thing my panelists know about the beer is what color it is. The reason for blind tasting is to limit all the sources of bias that I can control; I want my panelists to experience these beers with as few preconceived notions as possible. At the moment, I’ve got tasting data for over 150 of these samples, so I thought I’d make them a normal part of this blog. Hopefully our descriptions of these beers can help you expand your awareness and vocabulary.
Some of the terms on these lists are common terms and some are molecular names, and since I have to assume that the readership has limited knowledge of these things, if I think a term needs additional description, I’ll include it. We will cover the molecular names for these in future posts, so don’t worry too much if you feel overwhelmed. Stick around, it will get easier.
Today’s beer is Full Sail’s (Hood River, Oregon) Belgian-style Dubbel called “Sanctuary”. This latest addition to their line of Brewmaster Reserve beers, was bottled in a 22oz bottle, with a stated ABV of 7% and 20 IBUs.
I’ve already discussed why you should (and how to) pick out the freshest beer you can find in the store, and some of the reasons are stated above: “Oxidized, papery, port, stone fruit” are all common terms associated with the oxidation of beer. Other flavors suffer when beer oxidizes, not only because these flavors themselves degrade, but also because the oxidation flavors that build up easily mask whatever flavors and aromas are left over. This is not [necessarily] the fault of the brewer. Most beer abuse happens after the beer leaves the brewery, much to the dismay of the brewers who tried their best to treat it right.
Overall, this beer was fairly decent. Other than the oxidation, no apparent off-flavors were present; the noted sourness was pretty limited and did not seem to indicate an infection, although this was our first exposure to this beer, so we can only assume it tasted true-to-type. Being only a “dubble” it was a fairly mild beer, as belgians go. Limited (but still present) phenolic/clove aromas and the low-ish alcohol means that this could be fairly drinkable for those used to the style. As usual, just be sure to buy it fresh, if possible.
One thing every beer taster should be familiar with is the Beer Flavor Wheel. Developed in the 70’s by Morton Meilgaard, it’s a good way to present some of the multitude of descriptors of beer flavor and defects, and helps show how they’re related. I remember a nice glossy paperboard hand-out version of these when I was at university, but when I searched for online versions I was met with low-resolution results. So I made my own in Illustrator based on one I found in a journal article. Today, I find beerflavorwheel.com, which has great examples. None of them are perfect; all of them have to leave some terms off and sometimes categorization of the terms involves compromises, but overall they are a great tool. Some of the terms on the linked page may be a leap for beginners (how many average beer drinkers know what ethyl hexanoate smells like off the top of their head), but some googling will either take you to an answer, or to another version of the flavor wheel (there are many) with easier terms (but more vagueness). Or, you can hang out here as we go along and you’ll learn as we go.