Beer Sense-ationalism

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” a classic circular conversation that can be applied to tasting a beer. Which has more importance: taste v. aroma?

The answer: both.

How do I know? It’s my job to help make “sense” of beer flavor.

Consider your tongue a tasting device. The taste buds send signals to your brain and let you know what you are sensing. There are 5 basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The sensation, umami, is a savory or mouth-watering sensation.

All other flavor sensations result from the sense of smell. Have you ever noticed that when you have a cold eating isn’t as much fun? You almost can’t taste the food. This is because your nose is stuffed and you’ve lost your sense of smell! So when your beer’s aroma doesn’t (positively) stimulate your senses during the evaluation process, chances are your palate will agree. 

Here’s a little test to show you what I mean. Grab a Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat. Take a sip from the bottle and notice how the rich cherry flavor permeates your senses. Now, pour it into a pint glass, plug your nose, and take another sip. Hold it in your mouth and think about what you taste. Now unplug your nose and you should perceive distinct cherry fruitiness, perhaps with a hint of honey. Was the experience different from your first taste? I’ll make the safe bet that it was.

Our alcolyzer beer analyzing system, which determines the alcohol content of all types of beers/ciders.

Fancy lab equipment not required. We humans can tell the difference between 10,000 different odors. But often it is difficult to quickly and accurately name the aromas. People who are trained to recognize odors are not necessarily any more sensitive with their nose – they are just better at retrieving names of smells from memory and have a common language for describing what they smell.

While dogs can be 10,000 times more sensitive to odors than humans, an individual human olfactory receptor is no less sensitive than a dog’s. What makes dogs so sensitive? Dogs just have a hundred times the number of receptors as we do.

So part of my job is to help everyone here understand aromas and be able to reliably recall them with a common language. All of this helps us ensure we ship only the best possible beer.

Every batch we send still needs Jim’s sniff & sip of approval. That’s right, to this day, Jim still insists on tasting every batch.

Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions you may have around what we do here in the sensory lab… we’d be happy to help answer them!


Annette Fritsch, manager of Sensory, Research, and Development at Samuel Adams, helped edit this post. She is responsible for all sensory done at The Boston Beer Co., including quality assurance, product development and research. She also leads the technical and scientific team which focuses on research and new product development out of the Boston location. Annette obtained her master’s from Oregon State University in the Brewing Laboratory and is the sensory committee chair for the American Society of Brewing Chemists. She enjoys yoga, rock climbing, and welding in her free time.

  • Guest

    I want to subscribe to your blog using Google Reader but your blog won’t let me! Please look into this if possible. :)

  • Reelfishinpal48

    I have a bottle of “Summer Ale” from your varity case. There is sedament in the bottom of the bottle. I’m thinking more than is reasonable. I have not opened it and will not. Any thoughts or has this happened before?

  • Mike

    While i will always enjoy boston lager, i was quite displeased with my case when i noticed that none of the bottles had the same amount in them. One of them even was missing close to a 1/4 of its liquid! Which goes to show you money cant buy happiness but it sure as hell can put the same amount of beer in each bottle!! GRAB SOME samuel adams!!!

  • Lengold

    It has been brought to my attention that Wells Fargo is advertising on the rush limbaugh show (absence of caps is not a typo). I know you have to make money but advertising with this man is like bobbing for apples in a cesspool. Please discontinue your advertising or I will cease to shop at your stores and encourage everyone I know to do the same.
    Leonard Goldman

  • Ddietz

    Lets see how good you are?

    I’m trying to register for the”Brew With Our Brewers”.

    I have not had any luck finding this on your website.

    Been drinking your beer since freshman year in college back in 1985.


    Doug Dietz
    The NB Cochrane.Co.

  • Louis McPherson

    I am a big fan of Sam Adams Lager. But I am a retired American Expat living in Manila Philippines. I would Love to have Sam Adams available here.but have been able to find it anywhere. Why not get a distributor here so i can enjoy it. There are about 10000 plus american expats living here and i am sure i am not the only sam adams lover here.

    Lou McPherson