Day 9

In reading back over my entries for the past week, I am startled to see that some days I use the past tense, and other days are in the present tense. I’m often writing these late at night, and obviously my end-of-the-day thought processes vary from night to night. And I’m probably making some mistakes in the details of chemistry and brewing process, but hopefully I’ll have those all figured out before final exams.

After a week of theory and other classes, yesterday was our first practical brew session. Likewise, today in Sensory Evaluation, we had our first tasting, if only to choose a glass to use.

The class started at 8:30 am, and as requested by Roger Mittag last week, I had not tasted any coffee for over an hour. (I’m not an addict, I can stop whenever I want–as long as it isn’t right now…)

Roger started the class by going into more detail about the ideal tasting environment. Many craft beer drinkers have done informal tastings in a bar, and Roger recalled for us the many distractions–the people who stare at us while we jot notes, the loud music, buzz of conversation, loud TVs, as well as the dim light, the lack of white surface, dirty glasses (or glasses with detergent residue), and overly refrigerated beer–factors over which we have no control. In addition, we are probably tasting in the late afternoon or evening, when our taste buds are tired.

The ideal tasting environment (the Niagara College tasting lab right now, but probably our kitchen table after graduation) should have good lighting and no strong odours. We can control distractions by turning down the music, turning off the cellphone and turning off the TV. We can also avoid cooking with strong odours (garlic, onions) for several hours before, and we can choose to taste in the morning, when our taste buds are most vibrant.

We should be looking to take 30-40 minutes per beer, allowing the beer to warm and release new aromatics that were not volatile at lower temperatures. If we provide bread, make it a bland white bread, or possibly unsalted crackers.

Roger also reminded us that as professional brewers, we should be holding daily tasting sessions of our products with a consistent panel so that we can detect any problems in our production line and, depending on the off-flavour, zero in on the part of the brewing process that is causing the problem. He also encouraged us to occasionally bring in an outsider for an objective opinion, or to note problems that have developed so gradually that our day-to-day tastings have gotten used to them.

Roger then took some time to  examine the Beer Flavor Wheel, developed in the 1970s by Morten Meilgaard as an attempt to describe the various desired flavours and aromas in beer, as well as undesirable off-flavours that indicate a brewing problem. Like our practical brewing class, we were split up into 9 teams of 4 students, and each team was given a portion of the flavour wheel to explore and report on in two weeks. Our team received the part of the wheel covered by “Cereal” (“grainy”, “malty” and “worty” are the descriptors on the wheel).

Then it was time for a tasting. The purpose of this tasting, using Niagara College’s own First Draft ale, was to assess several types of tasting glasses and reach a consensus on which one we would use.

First up was the ISO standard wine tasting glass, a tall slim “flute” with a narrow opening; then a small “tulip” glass, then what looked like a small cognac snifter without the stem.

Consensus was that the ISO glass is  too narrow–the nose is left outside of the glass as we drink, removing aromatics from the equation. The aromas of the tulip glass seemed weaker to me, likely because the open bell design seems to diffuse the aromas rather than concentrate them. However, Roger warned us against falling into “group think”, where no one contradicts the first opinion raised, and subsequently several people favoured the tulip design.

In the end, the class couldn’t decide between the snifter and tulip, and we decided to use them both at each class.

Interestingly, at the end of the class, I observed most of the students–who all enjoy beer–carefully pouring their samples down the sink rather than drinking the remains of the beer in each glass. Perhaps we’ve already gotten into the “this class is for tasting, not drinking” mode? Or was it still to early in the morning to enjoy the taste? (I know what I truly craved at that moment: coffee!)

Frequently Asked Question of the Day: What do you hope to do when you graduate? 

When I was very young and was asked the famous “What are you going to be when you grow up?”, I replied “fireman”. (Not the fire-fighting kind–I wanted to be the one who drove the firetruck and fed the dalmations.) That obviously didn’t work out, and since then, I’ve been more cautious about predicting my future. As John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

There are many Brewmaster students who already know what they want to do when they graduate, but I, like fellow student Jordan St. John, am a little more sanguine about the future. It’s a really great train ride right now, and at the moment the destination seems less important than the journey.

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2 Comments on “Day 9”

  1. Canageek Says:

    Your beer wheel isn’t working by the way.


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