News How To Create Or Improve Your In-house Tasting Panel

Creating an active, engaged in-house tasting and sensory program should be top of mind for brewers of every size. You spend so much time planning, brewing, cleaning, and often just trying to survive, outsourcing the beer sensory element of your business to consumers in your taproom or even machine or lab testing can be tempting. While there is great value in using lab work or your frontline tasters as part of your overall mechanism for ensuring product quality, it remains crucial to have a diverse array of brewery employees routinely taste and assess the quality and consistency of the beers that you produce. Let’s take a look at some key points in creating a tasting and sensory program.

Taste Every Batch And Run

Sensory evaluation should not be an occasional affair at your brewery but one you routinely employ, including for every batch, bottling, or canning run. To maintain consistency, you need to schedule regular tastings of your beer. Ingredient quality changes from delivery to delivery and brewers need to adjust recipes based on the information they receive from their suppliers. It is critical for your staff to taste and review each new batch. This is especially important if your brewery focuses on anything beyond a one-off brewing model. If your flagship or most popular beers begin to stray from the original recipe or taste even a little off, you are likely to start hearing about it from customers at your bar or in your Untappd ratings.

Get The Whole Team Involved

We often hear that everyone’s palate is different. While true, it also carries extra meaning when it comes to setting up sensory training protocols. Brewers may believe themselves the most knowledgeable about their products but they are also too close to the beer to always maintain objectivity. They also may inadvertently suffer from a hive mind mentality about how the beers are supposed to taste, rendering themselves blind to potential off flavors, flaws, or deviations. Actively recruiting employees from other sides of the business–accounting, warehouse, sales, IT–helps diversify the company’s collective palate and actively integrates them into this crucial aspect of the business.

Sensory Is Education

One often under-appreciated feature of regularly rotating the participants involved in the tasting and sensory panels is that it helps brewery employees become more conversant in the language of beer and increases their knowledge of the company’s brands. The brewing side may seem alien to those working in payroll, but one area that connects all employees is the blind tasting room. Before inviting employees to join the sensory panels, it remains key to train them in the language and science of beer and tasting. The best programs treat these sessions as essentially classes that take place over time. At Allagash Brewing, new employees participate in classes over an eight to ten month period before being invited to join the panels. During these training sessions, the new recruits learn about off-flavors (finding coffee notes in the company’s signature witbier for example versus in a stout or porter) and how to identify 29 specific flaws, such as ethyl phenylacetate, DMS, or acetaldehyde.

Consistency And Accessibility Are Key

Maintaining a consistent schedule in terms of time and location also encourages greater participation in the panels and better accuracy in the results. If one day you taste early in the morning and the next you taste immediately after lunch, even the same employees may come up with different results. It is also important to maintain a pressure-free environment. Every person perceives off-flavors in different ways so it remains key to stress that every trained participant adds value to the process.

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