expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Cicerone and the Search for Off-Flavors in Beer

Having judged in competitions several times in recent years, I've always been interested to hear what brewers and experienced homebrewers say about beers. In a lot of cases, they would talk about things I was tasting, but didn't necessarily know how to describe.

That led me to think it might be useful to get some formal training on how to detect and describe flaws and off-flavors. A few weeks ago, I found out about a Cicerone Off-Flavor class that was being held in Portland. Viola.

For the record, I'm not seeking any kind of Cicerone certification. I think the value of those certifications depends on where you are in your career and your intentions. I'm not in the beer industry, likely won't ever be part of the industry. I'm also not a decorated homebrewer (when I was brewing, my beers were often infected). The Off-Flavor class was strictly an educational junket for me.

The class, which was held at Ex Novo Brewing in Portland, was small...12 people. The gent who facilitated the class, Bobby Wood, travels around the Northwest teaching classes and doing other things related to the Cicerone program. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. He told me via email that classes vary in size:
Depending on the market, off flavor courses can sometimes have up to 40 or so attendees, especially if the course is being held in conjunction with a major industry event, though attendance can sometimes be difficult to predict.
I expected to see industry-connected folks at the class. Sure enough, I was the only one from outside the industry. The rest were bartenders, servers, brewers and brewery reps. Wood verified that attendees run the gamut from beer aficionados to homebrewers to service staff and sales reps.

There were no quickie intros, which was too bad because I was curious to know why people were there. Some were evidently there simply to improve their ability to detect and identify flaws. Others were getting ready to take a Cicerone test and the Off-Flavor class was part of the prep.

The format is pretty simple. When you sit down, there are seven small glasses in front of you. One is a control beer. The other six are the control beer spiked with chemicals that induce common off-flavors DMS, Diacetyl, Acetaldehyde, Trans-2-Nonenal, Lightstruck (Skunky) and Infection.

There's a certain technique to tasting that I wasn't fully familiar with. The spiked samples, Wood noted, presented more robust flaws than we are likely to find in the wild. Still, some of these flaws are more difficult to detect than others and proper tasting approach is helpful.

By far the easiest flaw to detect, at least for me, is Lightstruck, which can happen to a beer in a matter of minutes when it is exposed to the right (or wrong) kind of light. Trans-2 is another easy one, featuring a dry mouthfeel and papery flavor. The others are more nuanced. Palates vary.

We also talked about how flaws occur. The most instructive point here is that flaws don't always emanate in the brewery. Beer can be damaged by inappropriate handling, dirty tap lines, poor packaging, etc. This isn't exactly breaking news, but it's important to recognize that flaws in beer are sometimes caused by things that happen after it leaves the brewery.

The basic Off-Flavor class runs just over an hour and costs $49. I thought that was a decent value because I think it's useful to hear what others who taste and evaluate beer have to say. However, you can purchase a kit to do this tasting as an independent group in a private setting.

Several people have asked when the Off-Flavor class will be offered again in Portland. I have no idea. Wood told me they typically offer the course here quarterly, but that depends on demand and attendance history. Navigate to the Cicerone Off-Flavor page for upcoming sites and dates.

The value of the class will depend largely on what you're looking for. There are several layers of Off-Flavor courses, this one being the most basic. I thought it was time and money well-spent. But opinions will certainly vary.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it civil, please.