02 Nov 2010 @ 11:58 PM 

Siebel Concise Course: Day 2 – Hops, Enzymes, and Skunky Beer


This is more like it.

Introductions are over. Today we started to get into a decent amount of information. We covered hop history, cultivation, biochemistry, types of extracts (and other products), how they’re made, and how they’re used. We talked about hop schedules, hop aromas and flavors, and how to get them, including an interesting little discussion about first-wort hopping.

We talked about barley cultivation and biochemistry and brushed the edge of the topic of malting science by going into an in-depth discussion on enzymes in brewing. Yeah, baby. This is the kind of science I’ve been looking for.

Unfortunately, this is, without a doubt, a concise course. We gloss over topics, we generalize, and we definitely breeze through explanations that could, under better (more expensive) circumstances go much more in-depth.

The part of the day that I was particularly pleased with today was the Sensory panel at the end of the day. Because we spent the day hearing from Ray Daniels, the mastermind behind the Cicerone program, I assumed we were going to get the off-flavors tasting from Ray.

I have taken the off-flavors tasting course with Ray, and I wasn’t really looking forward to doing it again: I don’t like tasting bad beer. I know what crap tastes like, and I don’t like crap.

I was surprised when Ray packed up his stuff at the beginning of the Sensory Panel session. We got what promises to be a much more in-depth tasting. I mis-understood, you see. It wasn’t an off-flavors tasting. It was a sensory calibration. This was one of many sensory panels we will have.

Today we covered sweet (just added sugar), sour (acetic acid), salty (added salt), bitter (+25 BUs), DMS, grainy (I forget what was added to achieve this), geraniol (one of the many hop oils), isovaleric acid (oxidized hops), and skunked/lightstruck. More are coming, I’m told.

Lyn Kruger, the President of Siebel ran the tastings and I was kind of blown away. I’ve had most of these before, and I feel like I have a pretty good palate. Grainy kind of took me by surprise – I just don’t think I’ve ever experienced quite that flavor in beer before – at least not to that extent. These spikings are meant to be something like 5-times the normal taste threshhold. To say that they are obvious is a bit of an understatement. I could even pick up the some of the things that Lyn noted we shouldn’t have been able to smell because they were not volatile (sugar and salt notably). Isovaleric acid – which I’ve definitely tasted “in the wild” – was gaggingly foul. Have you ever had beer that was decidedly cheesy? You don’t want to. Trust me.

What really blew my mind, though, was skunked beer, and here’s why: I’ve never really been able to detect skunked beer unless it’s REALLY skunked – I can normally get a little bit of flavor, but I almost never pick it up by aroma. Lyn said something today that completely defined it for me, though. She’s South African, you see, and she noted to the class in general that South Africa does not have any skunks. So when she was first on sensory panels, she didn’t know what “skunked” meant, either. She always thought of it as “coffee, toffeeish flavor.” And then the whole thing sort of fit into place for me.

Yes! I don’t smell or taste skunk at all. I know what a damn skunk smells like, my dog was sprayed by one once when I was a kid. The smell hung around my house for weeks, permeating every piece of soft material in the place. NOTHING in beer has ever smelled like a skunk to me. But lightstruck? It smells and tastes like an acidic coffee, and – to me, anyway – it’s fairly faint. And thus, I have another flavor I can recognize in my palate. Awesome.

One of the other interesting things that she noted about skunky beer is that it a lot of breweries apparently do it on purpose on importing into the U.S. – and while that might sound ludicrous, she offered this explanation: Clear bottles and green bottles are sexy, but they almost instantly skunk your beer. However, most American drinkers consider that skunky flavor to be “the flavor of imported beer.” They pay good money – extra money! – for that flavor, and if it were to go away, they might think that something is wrong. She noted that, in the Netherlands, Heineken is sold in a brown bottle.

Food for thought. I’m looking forward to the other sensory panels.

This evening I got the opportunity to hang out with good friends Jon “@beerinator” Surratt and his lovely wife Robin “@beerprincess“. A lovelier beer-drinking couple you will be hard-pressed to find. Unless, of course, you’re hanging with me and my wife. I’m pretty sure we could put up a good fight. We just may have to challenge them to a duel.

Tomorrow we cover malting, milling, and beer styles. I’m looking forward to it. I need to remember to take some photos to spice up these posts. Count on it.

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Categories: industry
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 03 Nov 2010 @ 12 01 AM


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