Beer Education: Module Ten: Beer Assessment and Tasting

Beer Education: Module Ten: Beer Assessment and Tasting

Welcome to the final module of the class – The Science of Beer Brewing! Congrats! We finally made it. Took us a while, but we got here, and after this it’s all over; unless you signed up for the verified track learning and the certificate, in which case you’ll have a final exam / assessment after this final module. If you took that route, congrats and good luck. Hopefully the certificate will help you!

Like every module, this one also starts with an introduction video. This one is 2:11 and talks about this being the final module, about beer tasting, assessing the qualities of a beer, and how people will rate and enjoy the beer.

Our first page of the module is a text page about chromatography, and its the first of the segment about ‘methods to analyze chemical composition of beers’. “Chromatography is a method for separating, identifying and quantifying molecules present in a mixture, in our specific case, in beer. Separation of different molecules occurs by allowing the mixture to run through a thin tube, called a column. This column contains a specific filling, also referred to as the stationary phase, that interacts differently with different molecules, depending on their exact chemical or physical properties. These interactions affect the rate at which these molecules pass through the column and separate the different molecules from each other – causing each of the molecules to exit the column at a different time, the so-called retention time. As the molecules exit the column, they are detected and identified. The output is a chromatogram.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

The page then has a picture of a sample chromatogram. It then discusses the columns; how they are made – from a large variety of materials; two general columns are packed columns and capillary columns. In packed columns the phase known as stationary is packed into the cavity of the columns. In the capillary columns that same stationary phase is coated on the inner surface of the columns. This text page then has two tab pull-downs at the bottom for: gas chromatography and high performance liquid chromatography. Give yourself plenty of time, because each of these tab pull-downs could have been a page unto themselves.

Next up is spectrophotometry. “A spectrophotometer uses different wavelengths of light to determine the concentration of a compound in a sample. Specific wavelengths are absorbed by certain compounds and hence the amount of light that is absorbed can be used to determine the concentration of the absorbing compounds.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

Some beer properties that can be measured spectrophotometrically:

  • Color
  • Bitterness
  • Other beer characteristics
    * glucose
    * free amino nitrogen (FAN)
    * fructose

There is others as well, but these are the primary ones to be concerned with and to note here.

The next page is a quick knowledge check (ie. test). The first question is a two-part drop-drag (multiple choice) question. The second question is a multiple check-box, where you will need to pick all of the ones that apply and are correct.

Moving along, we come to the next segment of this module: sensory analysis of beer. Our first page for this segment of the module is a typical introduction text page. “The methods discussed in the previous section allow you to quantify the different compounds present in beer. However, it is the interaction between all these compounds that determines how the beer is actually perceived by us. It is still very hard to predict a beer’s taste and aroma solely on the measurements of the individual aroma compounds. Different flavor compounds can interact with each other, with some compounds masking or enhancing the perception of other compounds. Each compound also has a specific flavor threshold, below which it will not be perceived. And of course, this flavor threshold also depends on what other flavors are present in the beer (and hence on the ‘matrix’ in which it is present: the flavor threshold of a compound will be different in water than in a beer…).” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

Aspects of sensory analysis are:

  • visual aspects
  • aroma
  • taste
  • mouthfeel
  • body

Clicking next, we come to a text page about ‘testing panel’ and training a testing panel. Two big reasons for having a tasting panel is to ensure beers are true to brand and to evaluate the consistency of the beers. (How often have you read or heard about batch 1 vs batch 2 from a craft brewery or the lack of consistency between batches; I can think of the recent hullabaloo with Funk Brewing and a batch not having the consistency of a previous batch; this is why its so important to keep consistency between batches the same.)

“More specifically, do the beers contain all the typical flavor compounds they need to contain? Does it taste how this specific beer should taste, according to customer’s expectations? Is the beer conform the specific style or brand?” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

Testing panels are people hand-picked by breweries to sample, test, and preview recipes, beers, ingredients, new procedures in brewing, new vessels, etc. They are usually a group or assortment of knowledgeable people with an extensive background in beer and alcoholic beverages; cicerones, BJCP judges, former brewers, restaurateurs, malsters, hop growers, etc, etc. (People with expert knowledge in the field.)

The first step to the testing panel, is to train the participants. As with everything, definitions and vocabulary is essential, so you will want everyone on the same page, using the same language, describing beer in the same terms, etc. This is why there are groups like the BJCP Judges, who have a uniformal way of judging beer. So this is a two step process; step one: development of vocabulary, and then step two: standardization of vocabulary.

Development of Vocabulary – “People are exposed to different flavors and are asked to write down the words they associate with a specific flavor. This can be done by using beers that have very specific flavors, or, more commonly, by using commercially available flavor standards (packaged flavor molecules that can be readily added to liquid and consumed).” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

Standardization of Vocabulary – “Here, panel members discuss different words associated with a specific flavor. In the end, people agree to use some of these words as specific descriptors for a specific taste. In this way, everybody will use the same word to, for example, describe specific hop aromas. Based on the vocabulary developed during these steps, a tasting sheet can be developed that can be used  as a tool during the actual tastings. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to establish your own vocabulary from scratch. You can also use the terms from, for example, the Beer Flavor Wheel that will be discussed later in this module. In a next step, the panel is trained in specific attributes. This is usually done by spiking known quantities of flavor-active standards into beer and asking the panel to describe what they smell or taste (without them actually knowing what they should be smelling/tasting). This allows to determine the threshold of different compounds.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

The next page moves on to discuss tasting sheets and the tasting wheel. For anyone who has done any kind of beer judging at events, or training for BJCP or cicerone, this is all common knowledge. People who also grow hops for a living have similar sheets for how their hops should smell, feel, etc after harvest.

Most breweries have a beer evaluation sheet or a tasting sheet. They are typically broken down per style, so you would have a page for Lagers, a page for IPAs, a page for Stouts, a page for Sours, etc. (And some can be further broken down from there, but thats typically marked and noted on the main style sheet.) [For verified track members, there is a beer evaluation sheet / tasting sheet you can download.]

“Another commonly used tool is the Beer Flavor Wheel. The Beer Flavor Wheel was developed by Morton Meilgaard, a flavor chemist at a brewery in Detroit, in an attempt to standardize the language used in beer evaluation. The beer flavor wheel was jointly adopted in the 1970s by the European Brewery Convention (EBC), the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC), and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA). The wheel  (see figure below) gives a specific descriptive name to a wide range of distinct beer flavors. These are first divided based on if they are perceived by taste or smell (odour). Next, they are grouped into 14 categories, each with specific descriptors. For example, one of the categories is ‘aromatic and fragrant’. This is then broken down into specific descriptors, namely alcoholic, solvent-like, estery, fruity, acetaldehyde, floral, and hoppy, which can then be further subdivided into second-tier terms (not shown on the wheel itself).  Many of the main descriptors are also assigned distinct compounds responsible for the flavor, referred to as the ‘reference standard’. ” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.) Following this, on the page is an example beer flavor wheel. In 1993, Susan Langstaff updated the most commonly used beer flavor wheel to include mouthfeel descriptors.

Clicking NEXT, we come to the experiment page. Its a ‘do it yourself’ beer tasting. The page tells you what you’ll need to do a beer tasting, what ingredients, what equipment, etc. It also has a 9 minute video describing how to ‘professionally’ drink a beer. An interesting it discusses is a ‘black glass’, that way you are not persuaded or biased by the coloring of the beer. Its a very informative long clip, with the three main instructors giving you sage advice on how to properly, professionally, and smartly drink a beer.

The next page is a discussion on the tasting from the experiment. Here is my post in the discussion (a slight cop-out since I didn’t re-do the experiment, but I think it holds enough weight):

“I recently did a canning for SOCIAL DISTANCING – a collaboration beer between Tattered Flag, Abomination Brewing, and Pilger Ruh Brewing. Since I had several cans of it from the canning, I did that as my beer tasting. I also wrote up a review on it for my blog:

I really enjoyed it and thought it was a wonderful IPA to taste. I got lots of floral, citrus, hop notes, especially since it was dry hopped. My aroma segment from the article actually says:

“Canning day the whole brewery smelled delicious, like walking into a hop filled bakery. And cracking this beer just three days later retained that same smell. Strong juicy New England style hoppy deliciousness as soon as the tab cracked and the can opened. Very strong, citrus, floral and fruity notes, hint of peach and mango especially out of the fruit.” And not much changed doing the taster a day later either.


-B. Kline
The Beer Thrillers “

I stand by the aroma, even a few days later, so I think I nailed their question. (The question for the discussion was about the aroma.)

The next page is an expert clip, its by Dr. Veerle Daems, a sensory analysis for Haystack. The clip is six minutes and fifty-seven seconds long. Haystack is a full service research agency.

After this, is a quick knowledge check (test). The first question is a check-box select all that apply question, the second is a drop and drag question, and then a feedback question.

The next page begins our next segment of the module – Belgian Beer Styles. As per usual, the first page is an introduction text page. “Every beer is unique: beers are extremely diverse in style, taste and aroma. Interestingly, most beers belonging to the same beer style do share some characteristics. In the first module of this MOOC, we used these shared characteristics to delineate 8 different beer profiles that were used in the beer profile quiz you took at that time.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

The eight beer profiles that they use are:

  • easy going – lagers, amber ales, pale ales
  • the dark side – brown ales, stouts, and porters
  • funky flavor – sours, geuze, and brett beers
  • high hops – IPAs
  • fruity – fruit beers
  • spicy specials – witbiers, wheat bears, spicy blondes
  • triple trouble – Belgian tripels, strong blondes
  • no-low alcohol – NAB-LAB

The first page after the introduction is dedicated to the easy going beers, the lagers, amber ales, and pale ales. “Lager, amber and pale ale were grouped together to form the ‘Easy-going‘ category in the beer profile quiz you took at the start of this MOOC. We have grouped them together since most of the beers within these styles are light, easy to drink, refreshing and have a low to medium ABV.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

From there, the next page is the dark side; the brown ales, stouts, and porters. “Brown, stout and porter were grouped together to form The Dark Side category from the beer profile quiz you took at the start of this MOOC. These three beer styles were grouped together in this category since they often are dark, creamy and sweet, with a caramel or coffee-like aroma and taste.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

After this is the funky flavors, the sours, geuzes, and brett beers. “Lambic, gueuze and Brett beers were grouped together to form the Funky Flavour category from the beer profile quiz you took at the start of this MOOC. These three different beer styles were grouped together since they are often complex in taste (tart, barnyard, sour, acidic).” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

Then, we got the IPA. A familiar and favorite across the American craft beer scene, especially in recent years, and in all kinds of variations. From West Coast hoppy IPAs to New England smooth and juicy IPAs, or even ‘milkshake IPAs’ with lactose, and other variants in between (and even further apart!). “As you have seen in the first Module in this MOOC, the term India Pale Ale (IPA) refers to a British beer style that originated in the 1700s. British brewers realized that beers brewed using large amounts of hops would preserve better during the long journey to India compared to other beers. After a while, this IPA style was also brewed for the domestic market. IPAs were one of the first styles brewed by American craft breweries in the 1970s. Nowadays, different takes on the ‘traditional’ IPA exist, including for example New England IPAs, which are characterized by an intense tropical hop-derived aroma.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

Fruit beer is a pretty simple category. Fruit. In. Beer. Pretty simple, right? …Right. Don’t worry, there’s no M. Night Shamalyan style twist to this one. “Fruit beers formed the Fruity category from the beer profile quiz you took at the start of this MOOC. Different fruit beers exist, using different beers as a base to add fruits. The typical sourness of Lambic beers makes them ideal to be blended with fruits. These fruits not only add fruity and sweet aromas, but also provide a sugar sources during refermentation. Historically, Lambic brewers have used locally grown fruits to add flavours to their beers: sour cherries (used for Kriek beers) and raspberries (used for Framboises). Nowadays, other beers apart from Lambic beers are used as a base as well to make other fruitbeers, which are often sweeter than Kriek beers or Framboises.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

After this we have witbeer or witbiers. “Wheat beers and spicy blondes were grouped together to form the Spicy Specials category from the beer profile quiz you took at the start of this MOOC. Wheat beers, also called Witbier (not to be confused with German Weissbier), is one of the most unique beer styles of Begium. The name Witbier likely refers to the old Dutch word for wheat (‘weit’), since wheat is blended in with the malted barley. Historically, the wort was spontaneously fermented. This resulted in a cloudy beer with a sour taste. To balance out this sour taste, gruit was added. Nowadays, a mix of hops, coriander seeds and orange peel is used instead of the gruit.  Nowadays, witbier is no longer produced via spontaneous fermentations. Instead, yeast strains are used that produce a characteristic, clove-like, pepper and spicy aroma. Witbiers are usually bottle conditioned with fresh yeast.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

The next category (and page) is the ‘triple trouble’ or tripels and strong blondes. “While many publications differentiate between Tripels and other strong blond ales, sensory and chemical analysis of different beers from these categories indicate that there in fact is a large overlap between these categories (with some notable exceptions of course!). Bottle refermentation is common for both styles, resulting in strong carbonation.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

And the final category, the NAB-LABs. The non-alcoholic beverages or near non-alcoholic. (Think O’Douls.) “NABLABs were the final category in the beer profile quiz. NABLAB stands for No Alcohol Beers (<0.5% ABV) and Low Alcohol Beers (<3.5% ABV). The alcohol levels is the only criteria to place a beer in the NABLAB category and hence different beer styles, including pilsner, amber, IPA and wit, are present in this category. Health concerns as well as responsible drinking behavior are the two main reasons listed by consumers as to why they drink NABLABs.  Not long ago, NABLABs were less popular: brewers arrested fermentation before all fermentable sugars were converted into alcohol (resulting in a very sweet beverage) or used a distillation process that not only stripped the beer of ethanol, but also of much of the volatile aroma compounds. Additionally, many LABLABs tend to lack some body, and are considered less ‘full’ than other beers. Recent advances in brewing technology now make it possible for brewers to produce NABLABs without much compromise in flavor.” (EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing. Module Ten.)

The next page is a verified track learner page. A page for only those getting the certificate and paying the extra money for the course. (So we’ll be skipping this page, like I said in the previous articles, I’m not doing the certificate program, so I won’t have access to the verified learner track pages.)

Looks like we’ve reached the end, the next page is the ‘overview and check’ page, where you check the boxes saying you’ve learned everything in this module. The page after that is the assessment page – another page for verified track learners only. Clicking next we come to the feedback and questions page, a discussion page at the end of each module, where you can leave a note, or ask a question. The professors regularly check in, and like to help here especially. Following this page is the text page – End of Module Ten. They breakdown the different between the verified track and the audit track (the audit track is the non-certificate / free / non-paying program that I did, the verified track is the 99.99$ certificate track). At the end of this page, unlike other end of module pages, there is another discussion portion, but this time for the entire MOOC, so you can leave any feedback you have about the entirety of the MOOC, as well, or give a thanks, or shout-out, or what have you. I left a final note on the last MOOC overview discussion page:

“Thanks so much! This has been so much fun, and I’ve done it through my blog, which helped keep me on task, and I know my readers have really enjoyed it as well. Thank you for offering this, and doing it for either free or for certificate is so awesome. Was a great and fantastic (and productive) way of killing the lockdown time.

To see the start of my series on this you can check it out here:

To check out my blog:

Thank you so much for all the valuable information, and for giving me something to do and write about.


-B. Kline
The Beer Thrillers

Clicking the next page, it takes you to a page discussion the final assessment and a heads up on its grading system, for the verified track learners. They have until May 31st (2020) to complete the final exam. It accounts for 45% of their final grade of this MOOC. They will be graded, and if successful, certificates will be sent out June 2nd (2020).

As for us, we are all done now. Module Ten is done. The entire MOOC is done. I hope you feel as accomplished as I am. This was a fun MOOC, a fun course, a very informative course, and I know I learned quite a bit. If you did it with the verified track and get your certificate, congrats even more. Hopefully that will help to land a job at a brewery or craft beer bar or bottle shop as that is definitely something to hang your hat on. For those looking to further their beer, or brewing, or brewery education, I recommend the Brewer’s Association safety courses. I had taken them a few years ago (two and three years ago now). Each course in that comes with a certificate, and it has all aspects of the brewery covered. From silo and grains to bottling to kegging to sanitizing, to chemicals, to everything. There is a lot there, and they give you free certificates, and its all very well done as well. So I highly recommend that if you are looking to further your education. You can find them at: – Brewer’s Association Safety Training.

I will do a follow-up wrap-up post in the next day or two, that will basically just be saying how everything is done, and just put a coda and a cap to this beer education series on the blog. I will also go back through, and edit the previous module and series installments here on the blog to include a full linked syllabus and series overview at the bottom of each post, that way you can get to any module or part of the ‘Beer Education Series’ you want to from any other module post. So that should make things simpler. (You can also click on the Category or Tag – Beer Education and that will provide a list of the links as well.)

I would love to hear in the comments from anyone else who has completed this journey along with me. Or if anyone else knows of any other beer education series online. Also love furthering my education (shouldn’t we all?). Especially at this time of rest due to the lock-down, which is starting to lift – at least here in Pennsylvania. We’ll see how that goes. June 5th the whole state moves to Yellow Phase, and soon after that several counties will enter Green Phase for the first time. Fingers crossed for humanity on this one.

Alright everyone, thanks for joining me on this module and the MOOC, and congratulations on completing it! I’m off to have a beer to celebrate!


-B. Kline

The Beer Education Series:
** EdX: The Science of Beer Brewing
* Beer Education: Series
* Beer Education: Syllabus
* Beer Education: Introduction
* Beer Education: Module One: The History of Beer Brewing
* Beer Education: Module Two: Barley and Malting
* Beer Education: Module Three: Water
* Beer Education: Module Four: Hops and Spices
* Beer Education: Module Five: Yeast
* Beer Education: Module Six: The Steps of the Brewing Process
* Beer Education: Module Seven: Fermentation and Maturation
* Beer Education: Module Eight: Filtration and Packaging
* Beer Education: Module Nine: Beer Quality and Stability
* Beer Education: Module Ten: Beer Assessment and Tasting
* Beer Education: Series Overview

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