Why Developing a Sensory Language is Key

For once, the pandemic may have helped a brewery. Because remote connection became standard for many things, Fat Head’s Brewery found out that they got better input during the hop selection process for the harvest lot selections because of what started in late 2020.

“In the past when it came to hops selection, usually I would go out with one other person,” said Fat Head’s co-founder Matt Cole. “We were purchasing millions of dollars worth of hops on two people’s opinions, so to speak.”

When the pandemic hit, hop selection became a remote project and hop yards would send samples.

“Now we’ve set up these hop samples from all these various lots and it would all be blind, basically just be a number,” Cole said. The day Brewer was interviewing Cole and fellow brewery partner Chris Allmont for the January/February cover story, the lab was being set up for sensory of various Mosaic hops to determine usage for the various lots.

“We would go through and score them and write comments and evaluate them,” Cole said. “To me it was it was kind of enlightening because it would bring validity to the table where if I go through and I find my favorite Top 3, and 15 other people go through and 10 of them have the same Top 3, there’s proof that we vetted this out really good.”

Kelly Murphy, who works in the Fat Head’s lab, explained that he prefers to get as many people as they can to do any analysis.

“The more, the better,” he said.  “Otherwise it becomes like kind of an echo chamber of like three or four people’s palates. The more people we get in, the diversification that gives us, the better our product ends.”

Learning each person’s tendency, and helping them get enough reps to understand their sensory vocabulary is important, Murphy said.

“If somebody is saying, ‘Oh, this smells like sulfur to me,’ and then another person says, “This smells like Band-Aids to me.’ Are they trying to describe the same thing,” he said. “Or are they both getting two different versions of what they’re smelling? Because they’re both correct. It’s just what they’re interpreting. And it’s, it takes time to develop that.”

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