Podcast Episode 131: Sensory Expert Lindsay Barr Wants You to Become a Better Beer Taster

We all taste beer, but do you really taste it? Developing a disciplined, analytical approach to honing your palate is a key skill for every brewer, and Barr’s thoughtful approach will make a difference in how (and what) you taste.

Jamie Bogner Apr 18, 2020

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Taste. It’s a hard subject to quantify but there’s nothing more important in the world of beer. We spend hour after hour talking about the minute details of brewing process and technique, but how much time and energy do we spend focusing on developing the most important analytical tool we have—our own palates?

In this episode, sensory expert Lindsay Barr, the former head of the New Belgium Brewing sensory program and cofounder of Draughtlab sensory software, walks through the nuances of tasting beer and the fundamentals of palate development. The conversation ranges from basics, such as building a ritual around tasting for evaluation, to more advanced elements, such as tying emotional experience to language, moving past binary definitions, breaking through flavor assumptions, and more.

Tasting and evaluating beer is far more than identifying off-flavors, yet so many beer tasters train and focus on these negative elements without considering the need to spend equivalent (or greater) energy on the “on” flavors of beer, which help brewers understand if they’re really achieving their goals.

The conversation then turns to the challenges in tasting—variances in anosmias and sensitivities, and the changes that tasters experience over time. Palates are not static; they constantly change and shift as a result of everything from life events to exercise to contextual inputs. Consumers change too, and every brewery can benefit from paying attention to that shift in the palates of the people who buy their beer.

“It is important to revisit brand flavor profiles as they change and evolve according to consumer preference, and I do think that brands really should evolve,” says Barr. “I’m not a believer that brands should just maintain as they are out of some kind of philosophical reason. I do think they need to be updated, and incremental changes should be made based on the palate of your consumers, because it is changing and developing.”

Every brewer does sensory on their own beer, every time they taste it. Admitting that we’re doing it is the first step toward developing a more thorough analytical process around it.

This episode is brought to you by:

G&D
G&D Chillers: As the brewing industry’s premier choice for glycol chilling, G&D Chillers has set the standard on quality, service, and dedication to their customer’s craft. For 25 years G&D has led the way on innovative solutions that match their brewing customers immediate and future needs. With a wide selection of custom built chillers; G&D offers the Nano chiller, the perfect solution for Nano breweries all the way up to their larger capacity units like the Vertical Air Chiller, built for higher volume operations. Contact G&D Chillers today for your chiller sizing needs at 800.555.0973. Reach out online at Gdchillers.com

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Old Orchard supplies craft juice blends from the heart of Beer City USA. As the industry blending experts, they supply major national brands and growing breweries alike. They've been the best-kept juicy secret in craft beverage for years, but now the secret's out. Breweries across the board are experiencing a seamless transition to Old Orchard as their new juice supplier. So hop aboard the Old Orchard fruit train; their sample kit starter pack is waiting for you at www.oldorchard.com/brewer.

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This episode is brought to you by Hopsteiner–your premium hop supplier dedicated to delivering quality hops and hop products in every package. Visit Hopsteiner.com for a complete list of offerings or select “shop hops” to start ordering today.

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Fermentis is the obvious choice for beverage fermentation. They’ve provided the beer industry, from large and small breweries to homebrewers, with the best fermentation yeasts since 2003. Their yeasts are easy to use—just pitch your Fermentis yeast directly into your wort, no rehydration necessary. To learn more about how Fermentis can improve the quality of your fermentation, and for the latest on their exciting new product releases, visit Fermentis.com.

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This episode is brought to you by Brewers Publications, publishers of “Small Brewery Finance” by Maria Pearman, “How to Brew” by John Palmer, and the forthcoming “Historical Brewing Techniques” by Lars Marius Garshol. Established in 1986, Brewers Publications has published more than 50 books of enduring value for amateur and professional brewers alike. Visit BrewersPublications.com today to browse the complete catalog of books and ebooks.

Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].

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