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Is there a right way to taste beer?

There is in our sensory program. Outside of sensory, we enjoy beers in all sorts of different ways—cans, bottles, glasses, you name it. At the brewery, however, we taste every batch of beer before it’s released. And to make sure the beer we release is consistent, the way we taste it also has to be consistent. Here’s the breakdown of how we taste beer.

The steps of sensory evaluation

1: Raise your glass of beer and appraise its contents: color, foam retention, turbidity (haze), etc.

2: Gently swirl the beer inside the glass before bringing it to your nose for two short sniffs. 

3: Return it to about half arm’s length and consider one more time.

4: Bring the beer to your mouth for a deep inhale through your nose, followed by a sip.

5: Let the beer fully coat your mouth before swallowing. 

6: Consider its lingering effects (if any).

We also train our sales team to run impromptu sensory tests in the field, so they can make sure the Allagash beer you taste is in top condition.

These steps form the fundamental action of every sensory panel we hold at Allagash. Our sensory panels are made up of people from across the brewery: production, sales, marketing, IT, accounting, and more. And yes, it is, at the end of the day, all about tasting beer.

The reality is that, as a new Allagash hire, you can’t just immediately join our sensory panel. All of our tasters are trained in a classroom setting. Classes take place over the course of 8-10 months before employees are welcomed to become part of our sensory panel. Among many other skills, tasters have to learn what constitutes an off-flavor in a beer. Put succinctly, an off-flavor means a flavor that isn’t supposed to be in a particular style of beer. An example: if we found the flavor of coffee in a witbier, that would be an off-flavor. But if we found a hint of coffee in a porter or stout, that would be just fine. An off-flavor in one particular style of beer can be desired in another.

Tasters also have to be able to identify the same flaw across multiple beers—a spike of ethyl phenylacetate (which smells a bit like honey) will present itself differently in a saison than a tripel. The number of spikes that certified tasters are expected to be able to identify currently stands at 29.

We use sensory testing for many of our ingredients. As seen above, we collect samples from every batch of grain, and spice, we receive.

Sensory testing is all about answering specific questions. How can we describe this beer’s flavor? How can we analyze consistency in beer? What off-flavors are present in this batch of beer? And why weren’t they present in this other batch? How do two different yeast strains ferment the same wort? And countless others.

Like we said above, we taste and assess every single batch of beer before we release it. In addition to the many sophisticated methods of evaluating beer that we have in place across the brewery, nothing can replace the complex and precise workings of the human palate. On our bottling line alone, our testing system can tell us that a beer is properly carbonated, at the correct temperature, fresh, and ready to go—but not whether it’s Allagash White or Allagash Tripel. Human senses are always going to be essential to making sure the beer we send to you tastes exactly as good as we expect it to.

Sensory tests you can run at home

Because tasting beer is fun, here are a couple simple tests you could run at home.

1: Grab four different beers of the same style (e.g. witbier, IPA, Pilsner, etc.) Using four identical glasses, pour a different sample of beer in each glass. Have your “panelists” try to identify which beer is which.

2: If you happen to have two different vintages of the same beer (bottled on different dates), using four identical glasses, fill two glasses with one vintage and two glasses with another. See if your “panelist” can match the vintages.

3: This one is Allagash specific. Grab three colored glasses or cups (so it’s difficult to judge the color of the beer inside the glass). Pour Tripel into two glasses and Curieux into the third. Because Curieux is a Bourbon barrel-aged version of our Tripel, there are subtle differences. See if your panelist can pick the odd beer out.

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