What is Malt Sensory?
Sensory evaluation is a common method of evaluating beer as well as its raw ingredients, such as malt. Sensory evaluation is conducted by individuals rather than instruments and equipment. When performing sensory evaluations, four different aspects of beer or wort are examined: appearance, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel.
Appearance is the way an object looks on the outside and, with regard to beer and malt, in large part references the color of the beer and malt. Malt color may be evaluated using the Standard Reference Method (SRM), in European Brewing Convention (EBC) units, or in degrees Lovibond. SRM is determined from a congress mash wort analysis.
Aroma is one of our major senses and makes up a large part of what we consider to be “taste.” Aroma is an extremely important component of beer and malt. Malt aroma can range from bread dough and water crackers to coffee and dark chocolate.
Flavor is arguably the distinguishing characteristic of beer and malt but is more of a blend of sensory information from the olfactory system, tongue, and mouth rather than a single sense. Some parts of beer and malt flavor are measurable and some are not.
Mouthfeel is the attributes of beer that produce a tactile sensation in the mouth. The three main attributes in beer that comprise mouthfeel are carbonation, fullness, and aftertaste. It is unlikely to encounter wort that has been carbonated, so most mouthfeel analysis in malt sensory focuses on attributes such as body, astringency, and aftertaste.
Why is Malt Sensory Important?
In 2014, the Brewers Association published a Malting Barley Characteristics for Craft Brewers white paper. The paper, informed by dozens of brewers, maltsters, growers, breeders, and researchers, concluded “malt flavor” was the most commonly cited gap in the current supply chain.
There have been many exciting insights into malt flavor and malt sensory as more and more brewers are discovering the impact malt flavor has on their finished products:
What Malt Sensory Tools Are Available?
Base Malt Flavor Map
The Base Malt Flavor Map, created by DraughtLab, is a sensory tool created to assist maltsters, brewers, distillers, and others within the craft malt supply chain and allied industries in describing base malt flavors.
The Base Malt Flavor Map makes describing malt flavors easy and approachable to all levels by using common flavor descriptors and breaking flavor down into three color-coded categories. The Base Malt Flavor Map also features step-by-step instructions for performing the ASBC’s Hot Steep Malt Sensory Evaluation Method.
Hot Steep Method
The Hot Steep Method is a first-ever malt sensory method validated by the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC). This brand new form of malt sensory was originally developed by scientists Cassie Liscomb, Briess Malt & Ingredients and Lindsay Barr, New Belgium Brewing.
To learn more about the Hot Steep Method, please visit the ASBC’s Methods of Analysis page.
Stop Chewing, Start Steeping
“Before doing sensory with a member of CMG we would arbitrarily smell, chew, and make a mash. After we now have a standardized malt sensory analysis protocol which has helped streamline recipe development, and create better consensus among our brewers before bringing a new malt on board.” Ben Roesch, Wormtown Brewery
“It was a great opportunity for me and our staff to get up close and personal with malt and really get into how they all differ. The malt sensory system brings out aromas and flavors that you won’t get from just eating grain. I’ve never experienced malt in this way and look forward to doing more sessions in the future.” Matthew Steinberg, Exhibit A Brewing
“The malt sensory I participated in with Valley Malt was eye opening to say the least. People tend to focus only on hop profiles and completely forget how important malt is to a beer. Tasting same styles of malt from different companies based in different geographical areas allowed me to understand the different characteristics that can develop from each maltster.” Katrina Shabo, Wormtown Brewery
“Tasting malt is a vital part of beer formulation. It is amazing how many people are disconnected. Tasting is a crucial part of deciding what grains will be best for your beer.” – John Mallett, Bell’s Brewery and author of Malt: A Practical Guide