Training Your Malt Senses

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Malt flavors and aromas can widely range from nutty, biscuit, bready notes, to caramel, toffee like flavors, to rich, roasted dark chocolate characteristics to even sweet, smoky barbeque aromas and flavors. While each malt has its own unique flavor, many malts will fall under similar flavor categories. Three of the more popular malt categories include base malts, caramel malts, and roasted malts, while others fall in more unique categories of their own such as dry roasted malts like Victory, Carabrown and Special Roast or special caramel malts like Caramel Rye and Caracrystal Wheat.

Base Malts

Base malts, which includes brewers, Pilsen, Goldpils®, Pale Ale, Ashburne®, Bonlander® and Aromatic malts, tend to reflect flavors and aromas that are slightly sweet and malty with biscuit and bready notes. Some also contribute nutty, toast, graham cracker, and honey notes while having some degree of grainy character.

Caramel Malts

Caramel Malt 10L through Caramel Malt 120L highlight sweet, caramel, toffee flavors with notes of dried fruits such as raisins and prunes. Caramel malts also commonly contribute roasted, burnt sugar flavors like a roasted marshmallow. Other flavor characters that commonly come out in Caramel malts are almond, toast, and sourdough notes.

Roasted and Dark Roasted Malts

Roasted and dark roasted malts range from chocolate malt, to dark chocolate malt, to black malt. The roasted malt category also includes Blackprinz®, Midnight Wheat, Roasted Barley, and Black Barley. In sensory, roasted malts exhibit slightly bitter, roasted, cocoa and coffee flavors with notes of dark chocolate or milk chocolate.

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Sensory Panel Training Methods

With the array of aromas and flavors, it becomes critical for the Briess sensory panel to be well trained with their senses and be able to distinguish the unique characteristics of each malt. The sensory training techniques that Briess is currently using are taken from the ASBC Sensory Methods of Analysis as well as the textbook Sensory Evaluation Techniques by Morten C. Meilgaard, Gail Vance Civille, and B. Thomas Caar. We use a variety of methods including: Triangle Test, Matching Test, and Ranking Test.

The Triangle Test method is a test in which tasters must correctly identify the “odd sample” out of a trio of samples in which two are the same and one is different. The Matching Test method is a test in which tasters must correctly match unidentified samples to previously tasted reference samples. And finally, the Ranking Test method is a test in which tasters must correctly rank samples in ascending order of intensity.

Creative Training Methods

In addition to the ASBC Sensory Methods, we have had to develop unique ways to train our sensory panel. Brewery sensory panels have the option of purchasing flavor capsules from a variety of vendors that very accurately represent the flavors and aromas that are necessary to be aware of when evaluating beer (ex: isoamyl acetate, ethyl hexanoate, acetaldehyde, dimethyl sulfide, etc.) This same option does not exist for the variety of flavors that a malt sensory panel would typically encounter, so in return, we have had to come up with some creative ways to train our panelists on specialty malt flavor recognition. Development of these trainings have closely followed ASBC sensory analysis methods, but we have taken creative liberties in the selection of flavor and aroma standards.

Aroma Training

Inspired by the Matching Test outlined in ASBC Sensory Analysis-4 (and my 6th grade science fair project titled “Your Scentsational Sense of Smell”), panelists are provided a group of standard aromas (raisins, dark chocolate, coffee, prunes, etc.) and after smelling each of them, they are asked to match unidentified samples to the known references – relying upon only their memory of smell and any notes they recorded to describe the standard samples. The unidentified samples are not visible and the only possible means to identify them is by sense of smell. The goal of this training is to help panelists associate aroma sensations with descriptive language and to demonstrate a panelist’s ability to correctly identify specific aromas. Aroma training is being used initially while we continue to develop flavor training.

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Congress wort sensory panel set up.

Flavor Training

Ultimately, our goal with flavor training is to spike Congress wort samples with specific flavors (coffee, raisin, prune, etc.). A method for this is currently under development. For now, flavor training involves tasting the foods that we commonly associate with the description of specialty malt flavors. The purpose of this is to unify the panel so that every panelist is referring to the same reference standard when evaluating specific flavors.

Bringing it All Together

By using a combination of sensory training methods, our panel is able to identify specific flavors and aromas from our hierarchical diagram of specialty malt sensory terminology in a blind test. They are then able to take these flavors and aromas from memory recognition and apply them to the Congress wort they are evaluating to build an Average Sensory Profile. The Average Sensory Profile gives us the opportunity to better, and more accurately identify and illustrate the typical flavors and aromas observed in each malt and place them into resources such as our Product Information Sheets in the form of Spider Web Diagrams.

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Briess Caramel Rye in a 10% brew (left) and 20% brew (right) tasted in sensory sessions.

Briess Caramel Rye Average Sensory Profile spider web diagram.

Briess Caramel Rye Average Sensory Profile spider web diagram.

About Cassie Poirier

Cassie PoirierCassie earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, and a Master of Forestry from Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI. Prior to joining Briess, Cassie was a Chemist at MillerCoors providing support to the Hop and Cereal Chemistry Labs. She performed pilot malting and RVA testing for their barley breeding program along with EPR/ESR analysis for flavor stability monitoring. During her time at MillerCoors, she also served as an Official Taster on the Milwaukee Corporate Taste Panel. In July 2015 she attended the Sensory Panel Management course at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL. In her current role at Briess, she provides technical support services for quality assurance, quality control, and R&D projects. Cassie has also taken on the responsibility of enhancing and managing the Briess Malt Sensory Panel.

Posted in Technical & QC, The Briess Beat | Tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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