Liz Pratt is a sensory specialist based in Amsterdam. The Beer Idiots interviewed Liz on how brewers with a small budget can use sensory perception techniques to improve quality.
Many small brewers do not even attempt to do some of the basic procedures to improve the quality of the end product – beer – through testing and tasting tests with panels because they believe it is out of their budget or they do not have the time to do it.
However, Pratt advises that there are ways to achieve improvement by using some of the tools at hand – sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. Tasting panels are also essential.
She advises setting aside four hours a week or less depending on the resources.
Collecting the data and sensory analysis starts by asking great questions: What resources are available; what do you want to know and what questions will provide that information to get actionable results.
These resources may be more than small brewers may think, says Pratt. First there are our basic human senses to evaluate, first the ingredients brought into the brewery, all the way through production to the beer about to be sold to the consumer.
This must be done on a consistent basis and recorded, so as to not only train the senses but also to achieve consistency. Sensory perception is a way of evaluating appearance, aroma, flavour and mouthfeel, which brewers do anyway, but perhaps in an informal way.
Another means is to set up a basic sensory panel to evaluate the beer. One tip is to invite anyone you can, not just your friends.
“You never know who your strongest taster is,” said Pratt, during her presentation at the Brewers Forum.
Here too, great questions must be asked and a basic way to record the results are needed to get to actionable results: What does the beer taste like; is it what we meant to make; did something change and do we like it?
However the questions must not be so general as to elicit vague answers. They must be clear and concise about appearance, aroma, mouthfeel, texture and aftertaste, for examples.
For example, flavour can be rated as sweet, sour, salty, bitter on a scale of 1-10 with tasters also contributing any notes they have. Mouthfeel can be rated as very light, light, medium or full bodied.
The next step is to organise the data in a way it is understandable to the brewer, while listing the date, topic and answers of each session on an Excel sheet for example, or through apps such as DraughtLab.
From that information brewers can write a short description of the beer based on the visual, aroma, taste and mouthfeel information gleaned from tasters. This will be the baseline description on which to judge subsequent batches.
“What is needed and what is possible is different for every team,” Pratt said.
This interview and article is part of our series of interviews at The Brewers of Europe’s Brewers Forum in Prague.