Day 23

In Sensory Evaluation, we poured six different beers today–but rather than taste or smell them, all we did was describe them. Specifically, Roger Mittag didn’t want to hear the words “yellow”, “red” or “brown”. Rather, he wanted us to increase our colour vocabulary by using descriptors that related to everyday items, descriptors that were, well, colourful, so that our listeners or readers could see in their mind’s eye what we were actually seeing.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Roger actually started the class by having us taste glasses of water that he had spiked with sugar, vinegar, salt, and bitters–that is to say, sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The trick was that we had to taste each sample while holding our noses, so that only our taste buds were involved. (It’s surprising how much your nose adds to taste. Don’t believe me? Try to tell the difference between the taste of an apple and a raw potato while holding your nose.) Roger wanted us to become aware of our own taste “landing pads”–the areas of our tongue that were most sensitive to each different taste category–and where they were located. Although there were similarities from person to person, it soon became apparent that no two tongues were alike. For instance, I was intrigued to discover that for bitter, most of my tongue is vaguely aware of it, but the area across the back of my tongue was very sensitive.

Then came the colour exercise. We started with Pabst Blue Ribbon, which ironically was the hardest of the five to describe, simply because there was not a lot of colour to work with.  Stella Legere (marginally more colour) and Steam Whistle (a darker gold) were not much better, but when we hit Great Lakes Red Leaf, then the class’s creative juices started to flow, using descriptors like copper, apple cider, honey amber, burnt orange, buckwheat honey, bourbon and golden amber. Likewise Black Oak Nut Brown elicited auburn, dark maple syrup, mocha notes and burnished walnut. Sleeman Porter was described as mahogany, reddish chestnut, dark rum, light molasses and root beer.

It was an enjoyable and creative exercise, and the first step for all of us in developing our own personal “palette” of colour descriptors that we will be able to pull out when needed.

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