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Good organoleptic skills = better beer

Those who can identify flavours correctly, can brew better beer

Teaser Stories
Marlene SpeckMarlene Speck works at Doemens in the area of taste and sensory analysis

You swirl the glass, sniff the beer, take the first sip – and you get an incredible number of flavours and notes hitting your nose and tongue. But what exactly does the beer taste like, apart from words like bitter, sweet or hoppy? Does it taste more like tangerine, pineapple or peach? The first person in the group dares to say “mango” and you think, “yeah, definitely mango.” Marlene Speck knows what that feels like. She was not a natural in terms of organoleptic skills; she had to sharpen her senses to the diverse world of flavours. She is now a professional, working at the Doemens Academy in the field of ‘Genuss und Sensorik’ (tastings and sensory analysis), teaching beer sommeliers and brewery employees. She is convinced that if you have strong organoleptic skills, you’ll be able to brew better beer. Ms Speck, humans are equipped with five senses. Which of them are activated when drinking beer?

Almost all of them, actually. The visual appearance of beer is, of course, the first thing we notice. Is it golden, dark or fiery red? This already gives us an idea about what our palate is about to taste. When we take the first sip, we start to sense the mouthfeel. Does it feel creamy like a wheat beer or tangy like a pilsner? And then, of course, the whole variety of flavours we perceive with our taste buds and sense of smell.

How important is this topic for brewers? Will a brewer be able to brew better beer if they have strong organoleptic skills?

Yes, I am quite sure of it. Having strong organoleptic skills is also important for quality assurance. If you can identify the flavours in a green beer, you’ll be able to tell when the beer has finished its conditioning or maturation stage. This also helps when developing new beer varieties or perfecting a recipe. To do this, I would recommend that you first describe your own beer as precisely as possible. Does my dark beer taste more like caramel or chocolate? And where should the flavours go from there?

People often find it difficult to put sensory characteristics into words though. How can someone get better at it?

It is best to start by going through the world more consciously. For example, sniff the flowers in your own garden or stop whilst out for a walk and ask yourself: what does this actually smell like? It is also good practice to blindfold yourself and smell different herbs and spices in your kitchen. Ideally, you have a second person at hand to help you. This method is helpful because it’s really important to switch off your sense of sight and only trust your nose. It often takes several tries, but at some point, you’ll be able to recognise what you’re smelling.

Are there some flavours that every brewer should definitely know and recognise?

It is incredibly important to be able to identify off-flavours. This is best done with ‘warm’ beer, i.e. at room temperature or slightly colder. For example, there is dimethyl sulphide, also known as DMS, which is reminiscent of the flavour of cooked vegetables or corn. This indicates that the wort was not boiled for long enough, or that bacterial contamination of the wort has occurred. Diacetyl is also important – the ‘butter aroma’. It indicates insufficient maturation or conditioning, or that the beer has been contaminated. If I can detect these and some other flavours in my beer, then I can make sure that only excellent beer leaves my brewery. Or perhaps I’m sitting in a bar, and I notice that the beer I’ve ordered has a buttery aroma: then I know that there is something wrong with their dispensing system.

an anyone learn organoleptic skills, or do you need to have a natural talent?


Anyone can learn how to do it – and I am the best proof of that!