NIRAS’s sensory analysis panel has a history dating back over a century. It employs a series of professional tasters that carry out quality control of beers from breweries around the world. But which skills are required to become a taster? And can an expert really identify a problem in the production process in a brewery just by tasting a beer?
- SECTORS: Food & Beverage
- COUNTRIES: Denmark
Brewing beer is a complex process where multiple things can go wrong, and sometimes the final product is not as expected. The beer can have certain flaws, and in some cases it can be difficult even for professional brewers to detect exactly why the aroma or the taste is wrong – and where in the process things might have failed.
This is not least the case when producing new products where parts of the process need to be finetuned. In order to identify these problems, breweries worldwide use sensory analysis experts.
Some large breweries have an inhouse team, but many breweries do not have the capacity to educate and employ this sort of specialists.
An advantage of NIRAS's sensory panel is that it acts as an independent body where all samples are evaluated 'blindly'.
This means a panelist will evaluate the beer without knowing anything about the beer’s background. Precisely this external, unbiased and objective approach is what makes NIRAS panel desirable for both big and small-scale breweries.
NIRAS's Sensory Analysis Section is ISO 9001 certified.
Using sensory analysis to resolve problems in production
There are many different types of taste panels within most food companies, ranging from fish oil to mayonnaise and to beer.
However, as far as we know, we are one of very few independent taste panels in the world conducting this sort of work. NIRAS's sensory analysis panel is also unique in the sense that our consultants use the results from the tasting processes to solve concrete problems for our clients.
The sensory analysis panel primarily evaluate different types of beer from clients around the world, mainly as a regular quality control, but also as a way of monitoring certain brand continuous improvement or simply to evaluate flavour profile of a new recipes.
Different elements of taste and aromas – especially the ones called 'off-flavours' – could be related to specific steps in the beer production process. NIRAS Brewmasters can thus find connections between flavours and processes - and through that find a solution that could assist in solving the problem.
Does the beer taste of strawberry or cardboard?
We all know flavours like strawberry and prunes, but there are lots of flavours with chemical names specific to beer.
Therefore, the tasters must get familiar with them. For example, does it ring a bell when you hear words such as 'iso-valeric' or 'trans-2-nonenal'? Most likely not, but if we tell you that these are flavours of goat cheese and cardboard, it would probably be easier to remember.
Although the same chemical compound can evoke associations of the blackcurrant smell for one panel member and cat urine for another, our panelists know that it is the fragrance with the official name 'blackcurrant / catty'.
How do you become a good taster?
A frequent question is: "What does it takes to become a good taster?"
Well, first and foremost it is very important that you are good at maintaining a high level of concentration while being able to recognize most of the flavours from training.
To successfully finish the training and become a member of our sensory analysis panel, each panellist must go through approximately 60 flavours and become particularly familiar with each. In average, it takes around 6 months for a person to become an official panelist. The flavours belong to various categories, some of which are pleasant ones while others belong to the so-called 'off-flavours'.
However, it is only fair to mention that some people will always be 'blind' to certain flavours, so it is important that you get to know yourself extremely well.
Therefore, we conduct regular trainings and validations of the panel members during the year, in order to ensure that our tasters live up to our strict requirements as stipulated in our quality manual.
NIRAS's Sensory Analysis Section is ISO 9001 certified, and we take our responsibilites extremely serious.
Hundred years of history of the sensory analysis panel
The sensory analysis business has existed for more than a hundred years. It was created by the company called Alfred Jørgensen’s Laboratories (AJL) founded in 1881. From the very beginning, the company carried out analyses of yeast strains from both a technological and an aromatic perspective. Consequently, it was also necessary to be able to qualify the aromas from the fermentation process.
AJL was later taken over by Carlsberg's subsidiary Danbrew Ltd. As the company continued to grow and merge, throughout the years it changed names few times.
But for several years, The Sensory Analysis Panel has formed an integral part of NIRAS's Food and Beverage Department and it has helped our clients around the world improve their beer production.
Matija Vukušić is Sensory Analysis Section Manager in NIRAS.
Head of the sensory analysis panel
In August 2021, Matija Vukušić started at NIRAS F&B where he holds the position as Sensory Analysis Section Manager in NIRAS. He is a Brewmaster with interest in the sensory analysis, and he is always doing his best to make sure that the tasters have a proper understanding of the different beer types and what characterizes them.