Prud’homme Beer Sommelier: My Beer journey
Introduction to Beer Sommelier course
After taking Level 1 and Level 2, I decided to continue my Beer journey. The logical next step was Prud’homme Sommelier Level 3.
Level 1 is purely an introduction to beer and beer ingredients, hence the name Beer Enthusiast. Level 2 is focused on History and beer styles. You taste a variety of beer styles, learn how to recognize faults in beers, learn about draught system, industry trends, etc. Also, you have a test in Beer History, Ingredients, Draught system and Off flavors. Furthermore, you have to write an Essay on one of the topics the Instructor gives you, and you have to submit tasting notes for 3 beers of your choice. Lastly, there is the final exam with miscellaneous questions from all the topics covered in the course.
Prud’homme Beer Sommelier Level 3 is all about teaching you how to facilitate beer tastings, beer dinners and any kind of beer workshops. Unlike Level 2, Level 3 is focused on understanding the most important beer styles.
I decided to write a bit about what this course covers and to keep track of my progress throughout this 14-week program.
In our first class, we talked about the assignments, requirements and resources. We covered topics such as Sensory Exploration and Taste bud discovery.
The Physiology of Tasting Beer
Taste buds contain the taste receptor cells, also known as gustatory cells. Tastebuds or Papillae were first described by Italian Physiologist Marcello Malpighi in the late 1600’s. Malpighi is considered to be the founder of the fields of histology and anatomic microscopy, as he was one of the first people to carefully examine the tissues of plants and animals using a microscope.
The taste receptors are located around papillae found on the upper surface of the tongue, soft palate, upper esophagus, the cheek and epiglottis. These structures are involved in detecting the five elements of taste perception: salty, sour, bitter, sweet and umami. Through the combination of these elements we detect flavors.
A popular myth assigns these different tastes to different regions of the tongue. However, in reality, these tastes can be detected by any area of the tongue. The tongue map or taste map is a common misconception that different sections of the tongue are exclusively responsible for different basic tastes. It is illustrated with a schematic map of the tongue, with certain parts of the tongue labeled for each taste. Although widely taught in schools, this was scientifically disproven by later research. All taste sensations come from all regions of the tongue, although different parts are more sensitive to certain tastes
Via small openings in the tongue epithelium, called taste pores, parts of the food dissolved in saliva come into contact with the taste receptors. These are located on top of the taste receptor cells that constitute the taste buds. The taste receptor cells send information detected by clusters of various receptors and ion channels to the gustatory areas of the brain via the seventh, ninth and tenth cranial nerves. The human tongue has 2,000 to 8,000 taste buds.
We did a little test – we tried 4 different solutions (water being a solvent): sweet, salty, sour and bitter and discovered that the taste sensations didn’t come from the designated regions. For example, someone tasted salty on the tip of the tongue, or in the middle.
Since this is a Beer course, we will be focusing on bitterness more than on other taste sensations. Bitterness is the most sensitive of the tastes, and many perceive it as unpleasant, sharp, or disagreeable, but it is sometimes desirable and intentionally added via various bittering agents.
• More complex chemistry which is slower to respond and is therefore a delayed sensation
• Lingers longer on tongue
• Is rare in food
• May need a little training or an acquired taste
• ‘Almost entirely due to resin fraction of hops’ [α acids]
Our next test was to identify 24 different aromatics, divided into 6 categories. We had to guess the aromatic and to connect it to a memory, i.e. write exactly what you think it is and write down what it reminds you of.
• Earthy & Nutty
The fruit category was straightforward. However, in Malt category, I totally missed the honey aroma. I thought it was orange peel, almost like burnt orange… It was only after the second sniff that I detected a waxy note. The other one that I missed was in the spicy category: coriander. I though it was marinated ginger, which is funny because coriander has such a prominent aroma.
This is a great exercise. The more you practice, the easier it will be to recognize the aromas. Go to the market and smell fruits, veggies, spices, grains, even if the people start looking at you funny. You can even make your own aroma kit. It will help you a lot!
1. Pain – CO2 is perceived as pain by our brains. C02 is a chemesthetic which interacts with nerve fibers.
“Chemesthesis” is defined as the chemical sensibility of the skin and mucous membranes. Chemesthetic sensations arise when chemical compounds activate receptor mechanisms for other senses, usually those involved in pain, touch, and thermal perception. These sensations can be aroused from anywhere on the skin and mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, eyes, etc. Chemesthetic sensations include the burn-like irritation from chili pepper, the coolness of menthol in mouthwashes and topical analgesic creams, the stinging or tingling of carbonation in the nose and mouth, and the tear-induction of onions Some of these sensations may be referred to as spiciness, pungency, or piquancy.”
The olfactory system
Olfactory signals go to:
• Hypothalamus – Appetite, anger, fear
• Hippocampus – working memory
• Amygdala – emotional memory
The olfactory system, or sense of smell, is the part of the sensory system used for smelling (olfaction).
The senses of smell and taste (gustatory system) are often referred to together as the chemosensory system, because they both give the brain information about the chemical composition of objects through a process called transduction.
The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke particular memories; for example, the scent of spices such as clove and nutmeg can remind you of Christmas at grandparents house.
One reason this might be has to do with the way your brain processes odors and memories. Smells get routed through your olfactory bulb, which the smell-analyzing region in your brain. It’s closely connected to your amygdala and hippocampus, brain regions that handle memory and emotion.
Before reaching thalamus, smells first wind their way through other regions of your brain, including areas controlling memory and emotion. So with scents, you have all this extra processing even before you have conscious awareness of the scent.
Your body also has far more receptors for smells (at least 1,000) than it does for other senses, like sight (four) and touch (at least four). This means that you can discern between many different types of smells, even those you may not have the words to describe.
As we get older, our olfactory function declines. However, research shows that the more you practice, the less likely you are to develop problems with smelling as you age. Exercising even one time a week was found to reduce the risk of losing your sense of smell.
Try smelling your food before you eat it. Notice the scent of flowers, cut grass, rain, wet stones. Doing this regularly will help increase your sense of smell.
Choose three or four different scents, such as floral, fruity, and earthy. Sniffing them four to six times a day will help the different receptors in your nose to work better.
Important Mouth feel sensations:
How to describe Mouth Feel:
• Gassy / Carbonated
• Powdery / Chalky
• Astringent / Puckering
As per Randy Mocher:
1. Smell first (Aroma) – many aromas escape rapidly
2. Look (Appearance) – clarity, carbonation, head
3. Taste – upfront flavors – mid-taste, bitterness kicks in • note body, texture
4. Finish / Aftertaste
Aromatics from Fermentation
• Fruity: esters (made from alcohol and carboxylic acid)
• Solvent: nail polish remover (excess esters)
• Phenols: (spicy)
• Fusels: (higher alcohols)
• Autolysis: muddy tastes from dead yeast
We will discuss more about tasting techniques in the upcoming classes. Let the Beer journey begin!