Alex G. Barlow, ALL BEER, Sheffield, United Kingdom
ABSTRACT: Organoleptic evaluation of beer flavor is the ultimate test of its acceptance to the brewer and target consumers. Descriptive techniques have largely centered around the flavor wheel first characterized by Mailgaard in the 1970. While researching the ALL BEER Guide book, Alex Barlow re-invented the flavor wheel format and descriptions in the format of a balance containing three groups of sensory characters depicting aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. This ALL BEER Flavour notepad was used to evaluate the flavors of approximately 1,000 beers spanning a broad range of families and styles from many different nations. Sixty-five data points were characterized for each beer and consolidated into a database to analyze and search beers by flavor characteristics. Preliminary analysis determined patterns of flavor characteristics that define certain styles of beer and that the most pleasant and drinkable beers are those that exhibit higher degrees of relative balance, based upon the split of flavor characteristics into left side (e.g., fruity, sweet, and full-bodied) versus right side (e.g., roasted, bitter, and astringent). Furthermore certain beer styles have a greater tendency to balance, irrespective of brewer or % ABV, while others are characterized by a favoring of the left or right side. The findings indicate that not all great or renowned beers are balanced; however, the most drinkable, session-able beers tend to be, even if they are intensely flavored. The data illustrate flavor patterns, intensity, and degrees of balance created by different beers styles, whether old or new. By combining characteristics from left and right sides a total flavor score was created that clearly indicates the overall intensity of each beer’s flavor. Evaluation of total flavor scores from a wide range of beers with different % ABV and style led developers to create a 1–7 index, termed the ALL BEER Flavour intensity (ABFi) rating that has been used to provide concise descriptors for use by brewers, retailers, and consumers to aid clear communication of beer flavor characteristics and attributes, irrespective of beer style, format, or background. The flavor notepad has also been successfully used as a tool to design beer flavor, relative strength, balance, and suitability for different pack formats with effective results by several brewers in the United Kingdom, America, and Canada. These tools have been used to effectively communicate flavor information via functioning website and print media. Further research on the data continues at Nottingham University Brewing School.
Alex Barlow was brought up in Chester, northwestern England, and in Zambia, Africa. His 25 years of experience in brewing and passion for beer started as a bar and cellarman in his local pub, before studying for two medical sciences degrees. He learned brewing skills at Bass’ U.K. breweries, becoming the youngest qualified masterbrewer in 1991, before moving to police beer quality in the pubs and clubs of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and northeastern England. He became the first Englishman to manage a Czech brewery, with Staropramen in Prague, and developed two new beer brands while gaining a taste for European beer styles. Alex is an independent brewing and flavor consultant, presenter, and sommelier. He regularly judges international beer competitions and presents beer experience events in the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America to consumer audiences and beer retailers. He is author of the ALL BEER Guide, winner of four international awards, and has contributed to publications such as The Times, Arena, and Imbibe. Alex provides independent beer evaluations and food pairings for www.allbeerfinder.com and continues to research beer sensory projects with the Nottingham University Brewing School. Alex’s mission is to change consumer perceptions about beer, assisting flavor discovery and choice. He believes beer’s superior spectrum of flavors makes it an ideal partner for food and takes a practical approach to winning new audiences for beer and food pairings.