Have you ever felt something strange and untrue flavour when you tasted of a beer? It is also possible it was not your type, however it is also possible you have met with an off- flavor.
Sensory panels and judges play an important role all throughout the food industry. Even though in the 21st century we have access to technologies that can determine the composition of food products, like the electronic tongue or chromatography, it is still crucial that people who can recognize and distinguish key aroma and flavor compounds take part in the final testing of products. Since these products are meant for human consumption, there is no machine (yet) that could determine if a meal will be liked by consumers or not. There is no substitute to the complex sensors developed through evolution.
Looking at the topic from the industry’s viewpoint, the most important role these talented and trained people have is in quality control, but their skillset is not that far away from that of a sommelier’s. Good genetics are a must, but to keep one’s knowledge of odors, scents and flavors regular training is required. But how can you train your smell and taste?
Take a look at beer! It is a complex beverage with a huge number of distinct styles, and numerous compounds that determine these styles’ uniqueness. Of course, if your goal is only to familiarize yourself with the parameters of different varieties, the easiest way is to try classic examples that can serve as ambassadors of their distinct styles. However, if we want to familiarize ourselves with the molecules responsible for a single aroma or flavor, we have to go further.
Wide-spectrum flavor and aroma kits are available for purchase on the open market; however, their pricing is very restrictive. The huge cost of these kits limits their usage in repeat training, especially if you want to do it on your own. It would be a shame, if there wasn’t an alternative. Lucky for us, we have a solution we are willing to share! Fehér Nyúl is unique on the Hungarian market (probably in the whole region as well!) in that we hold regular flavor/off-flavor trainings that are open to beer enthusiasts, industry specialists as well as complete laymen. Working together with a domestic laboratory, we developed a twelve-course tasting package, which contains all major compounds responsible for giving beer styles their distinctive properties or off flavors.
At this point, I would like to highlight the differences between what we call a flavor compound and what we call an off flavor. Those who work in the IT industry are familiar with the expression “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature”, which could be used in the beer industry as well. Let’s take diacetyl, one of the most common off flavor in lagers, as an example. This flavor compound is naturally produced by yeast during the fermentation process, and under normal circumstances by the time of packaging, it is already gone from beer, at least most of it is. In high concentrations, it gives off a buttery, caramel-like aroma and taste, which is less than ideal in a crisp euro-lager, or a well balanced Helles. However, when it comes to classic Czech style Pilsners, where it is traditionally accepted. Without going into why that is, it is a fact, that diacetyl is unacceptable in 99% of bottom-fermented beer styles, but for the original lager that is the Bohemian Pils, this compound is as normal in occurrence as the hop character itself. And this is just one example of the same compound being necessary in one style, while ruining others.
The reason for holding these training sessions is that we want our community of consumers to be educated in how their favorite product is being made, and what care goes into brewing to combat these off flavors and produce the necessary, distinctive compounds only certain styles need. Whilst we can’t promise that your sense of smell and taste will be enhanced (something that is determined by genetics, way of life, age and lots of other factors), we can safely say that after taking part in this twelve-course guided tasting session you will gain a new perspective, and you will be able to judge the drink before you in a much more objective way than ever before. It is a very important step towards becoming a conscious consumer, and it is also a lot of fun! Our off-flavor training session, just like our brewery tours, are held in Hungarian normally, but if you and a group of friends/colleagues/loved ones are interested in taking part, we can arrange English speaking guides. Please write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about booking.
Author: Máté Farkas