Understand Your Beer #BrewedAwakening

By / Wine + Drinks / March 9th, 2018 / 3

This week I helped out at Beer School, as part of the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival, for a structured tasting seminar. I was there to provide experience from my 25+ years as a Certified BJCP judge and beer writer, but the main lecturer was Mike Doucette, a chemist from CCNB (Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick) in Edmundston, New Brunswick, where they have a very cool department that has a brewery and distillery, as well as a fully equipped lab.

In addition to water chemistry analysis (from an environmental/water treatment standpoint), Doucette works with New Brunswick’s beverage alcohol producers, both at the development stage but also with respect to analysis and education. He has a keen interest in this sector and its products, and serves a key role.

This seminar was attended mainly by New Brunswick brewers, but there were also a few home brewers and beer enthusiasts, as well as a BJCP judge who is also a hop farmer.

13 known flavours in beer were presented and discussed, from fruity esters to spicy phenols, and tastings were conducted using the kit developed by the Siebel Institute, a well respected brewing school. Essentially, the contents of a small vial are added into 1 litre of neutral base beer (in this case, Coors Light). After Doucette explained the chemistry, and how the flavour happens in beer, he gave tips on how to avoid/get rid of it. We all tasted the sample to learn about the aroma/flavour, and I threw in comments about my experience with it as a judge, and how some can make a beer more appealing when present in low levels. This does not include butyric acid, which smells like baby barf, or indole, which smells like a sewer.

Doucette also brought along some commercial beers that have one or more of these aromas/flavours. For example, Budweiser was used to demonstrate the green apple character from acetaldehyde. Keith’s IPA was tasted as a great example of a beer with noticeable DMS (Di-methyl sulfide), which smells and taste like canned corn, cooked cabbage or asparagus. At low levels it adds complexity to beer, making Keith’s stand out from its “Big Brewery” mainstream ale/lager competitors.

There were several examples used to showcase phenols produced by the wild yeast Brettanomyces, which most of us just call Brett. This wild yeast produces complex characteristics ranging from spicy to horsey/animal, medicinal and smoky. These Belgian or Belgian inspired beers also displayed other flavours, including balsamic vinegar notes or coconut/vanilla notes from oak aging, as well as the usual things we want in beer: malt and hops! These included some cool experimental beers from Maybee, a great local Fredericton brewery.

This kind of tasting is really fun to do, but, more importantly, it is a great way to learn what is causing the diverse aromas and flavours that make your beer much more than just malt, water, yeast and hops.

You need to understand your beer to truly love it.


After the tasting I had the pleasure to try a special collaborative beer made by New Brunswick brewers for the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival. Over 20 brewers gathered together at Foghorn in Rothesay to make an American Pale Ale, which was released just in advance of the festival, which took place March 7-10, 2018.  This slightly hazy, light amber ale is 5.5% alcohol, and hopped generously with what tastes like mainly West Coast varieties, giving a citrus and herbal note to this hoppy brew. It finishes fairly bitter, a good example of a standard APA.


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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