Thursday, June 13, 2013

Beer Sensory Appreciation Class

     This Wednesday June 12, 2013 I went with a group of friends to an event hosted by Jamie Floyd, Co-Founder and Head Brewer at Ninkasi Brewing Company, and Peter Bouckaert, Head Brewer at New Belgium Brewing Company, located at the Bad Habit Room attached to Saraveza In Portland.  This originally was sold as a off flavors in beer class:

Sensory Training at Bad Habit - “Off Flavors” with Jamie Floyd, Founder & Owner of Ninkasi Brewing
Wednesday, June 12th 5:30-9:30pm
Do you think that “Diacetyl” is a dinosaur?  It is not!  It is a flavor that most beer drinkers consider undesirable.  Want to learn about this and other potential “off flavors” in your beer?  Join Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi Brewing for a sensory journey that will educate your palate like the pros!  
This just in:  Peter Bouckaert of New Belgium Brewing will be joining Jamie for the Sensory Panel and will be leading a discussion on Beer Styles as well!  Stay tuned for more details…
Temptation Incartate

     This turned out not to be a true representation of what the class actually was.  The class being taught that day was on sensory perception and how to experience the beer to its fullest. 
     The event started late and we were given strict instructions not to drink any of the beer.  So for 25-30 minutes I stared at this:
     Once the class started Jamie covered some basic brain physiology and biology explaining that your Gustation (taste) and Olfaction (smell) are located in your frontal lobe.  Your tongue can pick up 5 distinct flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.  You probably have a pretty good grasp on those with the exception of umami.  Umami is kind of hard to explain but its basically the savory taste that you get from some foods. Beer is not one of these foods so I am not going to go into depth on it.
     Explaining that there is a proper way to properly experience a new beer or a beer you have not had in a while there are specific steps that should be taken.

  1. Drive By Whiffing: A small whiff of the beer just as you run it under your nose, just to say "Hey, how you doin? I really like your broach."
  2. Visual Inspection: Look at the beer, recognizing its color, clarity, and head.
  3. Two Deep Smells:  Take some time to fully engulf your olfactory senses in all that is this beer.
  4. The Sip:  Take a small sip of the beer letting it fully cover your tongue and let it linger for a few seconds while you appreciate all it has to offer.
  5. Retro-Nasal:  This was a new one for me.  While either plugging your nose or ensuring that you do not breathe in take a sip of your beer swallow and then breathe out your nose.  This allows you to eliminate any other aroma that you are picking up in the air and just concentrate on that of the beer.
Jamie Floyd (Ninkasi Brewing Company)
     We were given a small glass of Total Domination IPA and then 4 small snifters with spiked samples of the Total Domination.  The glass was used so that we would have a base to compare the other samples to.  It was immediately apparent that the 4 glasses were the 4 flavors we had talked about, minus the umami. The glasses were spiked in order from left to right with sweet, salty, bitter and sour.  We did several tasting exercises that demonstrated how some flavors react with others in that they can either amplify of deaden them. Sweet and salty have an amplifying effect we had sweet-> salty -> sweet and each time the sample tasted more intense than the last time it was drank.  Bitter and sour had an similar effect.  We discovered that sweet and salty amplify everything.  Bitter amplified salt.  One functional thing that was brought out of all this taste testing was for beer tasting.  If you drink a lot of bitter beer your taste receptors become desensitized and it all becomes kind of the same.  However this can be counteracted by drinking something sour.  So at a beer fest one should drink some IPA's and then transfer to the sour beers and your experience will not be tainted by over stimulation of the flavor receptors.  He said this has something to do with hop bitterness comes from the oils in the hops and the acids in the sour beers cut through them.  I didn't pay close enough attention here so I can't really speak to it.

Peter Bouckaert (New Belgium Brewing Company)
     Next on the docket was Peter Bouckaert from New Belgium to talk about styles.  This was more of a philosophical chat about why we have styles and if we should have styles.  We were given a one of New Belgium's saisons, Saison du Poivre I believe, and asked what style of beer this was.  Then he asked us why it was a saison and a lot of philosophical questions about it.  After that we were given a Firestone Walker CDA and asked what kind of beer it was.  He spoke to the that since Firestone is in the Sierra Nevadas it should be called a SNDA instead.  It was a good conversation to have I guess philosophically but not really what I came for.  He then told us a story about a trip he took to Europe to bring back a beer to brew and how he saw some old architecture and it was very spiritual and then he translated that into Birre De Guarde.  I didn't quite follow the logical path he took from a trip where he just toured Europe and got really drunk into picking the hops, malt and yeast for his beer, but I wasn't there.  He talked about how style wasn't important only if people want to drink it.  Which to a certain extent is true, but then went on to talk about how it was necessary to let people know what to expect from it.  It was very reminiscent of conversations I have at work about what the definition of Indy Rock is or what bands constitute Butt Rock.

     After the official event was over I got to talk to the two brewers together about how perception plays a large role in how you enjoy your beer.  Also, preconceived notions of the beer will affect how you enjoy it.  For example if you know a beer is from a brewery that you like you will be more likely to like the beer just based on unconscious biases you have towards it.  Jamie said he saw a video presented by a woman at GABF from Pepsi that showed a study they did involving how big a role visual perception plays in the sensory experience of what you are consuming.

     Overall it was a good presentation even though it was not what I was expecting.  Jamie said that he will be returning to Portland soon with the actual off flavor presentation but he needs to figure out how to bring the flavor spiking lab with him on the road.  Another tidbit I got out of him is that they are going to be expanding into sour beers in the near future but they need to find a separate space for it since pedio or lacto infection could ruin one of their standard beers should they get infected.