By Mirella Amato
Hi, My name is Mirella and I’m a Craft Beer and Sensory consultant in Toronto. I’d like to share with you one of four things I think we should let go of as an industry. The below is a transcript of a video I originally posted on Youtube. If you’re interested, you can find the original video, as well as the other three topics on YouTube.
Transcript: Questioning Old Beer Habits Part 1
It’s time we reconsider using crackers (or bread) on the table during beer tasting and judging sessions.
Like most of the things I’m questioning, this custom was adopted from wine.The idea is to have some plain bread or unsalted crackers as a palate cleanser between beers. Here’s the issue: there are number of beers that have a bread or cracker-like note. It would be the equivalent of using apple slices as a palate cleanser for wine. The reason bread and crackers work as a palate cleanser, in this instance, is that there are no bread-like flavours in wine; it’s fruit based.
Beer, on the other hand, is grain based. And, yes, it’s for the most part a different grain (we’re talking barley versus wheat) but the flavours are quite similar and I’ve found especially with light golden beers, that the cereal grain note in the crackers is stronger than the one in the beer and it impairs the evaluation process. Regardless of style, bread and crackers aren’t really ‘cleansing the palate’ between beers. The whole idea of a palate cleanser is to provide a sensory break, which doesn’t work when you’re presenting a food with similar flavours.
Now beer has such a wide complexity of flavours that finding a replacement is tough. I’ve been experimenting and the best palate cleanser I’ve found, by far, is water. There’s just one snag: IPAs. Those of you who have experienced tasting a flight or three of IPA will know that the bitterness builds in your mouth and becomes distracting. No amount of water can wash it away. In these cases, you really need to chew on something to help get rid of that lingering and distracting note.
As an industry I believe we should work together towards a suitable replacement. In the meantime, I’ve found that using plain puffed rice cakes works really well. Their flavour is neutral and, although rice is used in brewing, it’s not a note that’s commonly found in the finished product – and certainly not in IPAs. More importantly, rice cakes quickly and effectively get rid of that lingering bitterness on the palate so I’d like to propose them as an interim solution if not a permanent one.
I think it’s time to say goodbye to using crackers and bread when evaluating beer. Thanks for your time. I hope these thoughts will spark some conversation.
Mirella Amato is a National Rank BJCP Judge & Master Cicerone
You can find her award wining book and other information on her website Beerology.Ca