Sensory Data Collection Tool - Analysis Simplified

Sensory Data Collection Tool - Analysis Simplified

Winning medals at the Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup, or Mondial de la Biere draws instant media notoriety to brewing companies who have fortune in their favor during world-class competitions. But as Teri Fahrendorf, founder of the Pink Boots Society and experienced Road Brewer, says, “Medals are great. Medals are awesome, but does your beer sell?” She insists, “You must be tasting your beer.”

Gary Spedding, founder of Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services in Lexington, Kentucky, has been operating BDAS since 2003. He was a former Director of Laboratories at the Siebel Institute of Technology, and provides analysis exclusively to the alcoholic beverage industry and allied industries. He is a master in teaching Sensory Evaluation Skills to individuals in the industry, and has directed numerous qualified panels for sensory evaluation.

In the course of conducting these sensory panels, he became acquainted with Tony Aiken, homebrewer, beer judge and computer programmer, who worked for IBM for 20 years. Spedding and Aiken began discussing the problems inherent in analyzing manual data from hand-written forms:

   1) Mandatory fields were sometimes ignored

   2) Panelists do not always enter information where they need to enter it

   3) Handwriting is often illegible

   4) Transfer of data and conversion into a useable tool is challenging

With his experience as a sensory analyst and programmer, Tony Aiken set out to develop a program that would be a consistent and powerful tool for the beer and drinks industry. This program, the Sensory Data Collection Tool, is a Microsoft Excel Workbook that allows sensory specialists to enter their evaluations of samples in an electronic format. The information is then transmitted to the Administrator’s Workbook, easily and consistently. The data can be viewed in multiple formats for analysis and it is instant, removing the manual drudgery of transferring information from paper to computer.

For clarification, the “Administrator” is the one who sets up the tool for the analysis. This may be the Head Brewer who monitors a particular beer that is brewed in several different locations within a network of brewing facilities; it may be a Brewer who wants to see how his/her beer stacks up against the competition; it may be a Brewing Company, training a panel of specialists for its Sensory Department; or it may be a Brewer/Owner, working toward consistency in subsequent batches of beer.

The Administrator sets up the list of beers or samples to be evaluated, select panelists enter their findings, and the data is copied back to the admin workbook for final analysis. The beauty is that neither the Administrator nor the Panelists need to be in the same location, but they can be if that is the preferred set-up. Data can be collected via email, ftp, shared disk, flash drive, or any other method that exchanges information between Windows applications.

This software has specific advantages. You can:

   1) target what tests to run

   2) determine how long to age cask ales to get the best ROI

   3) train panelists and target areas of weakness

   4) determine sensitivity to certain chemicals

   5) know when a panelist is having an off-day, based on past consistency

   6) target when palate fatigue has set-in

   7) evaluate how consistent brewing is between facilities or tanks

   8) analyze whether the ingredients you are using have changed and how to adjust the recipe to keep it consistent

   9) evaluate the use of different hops or hop schedules in a base beer

   10) The advantages seem to be endless

This software is only as good as your panelists, so it is important to invest in training sensory specialists who will use the tool. It also takes a “buy-in” from the management to get it to work consistently; that is, it needs to be used on a regular schedule, with consistent review and analysis to determine the cause of specific results, what has changed, and how to use the information being gathered.

Raw data is easy to collect and review. In the analysis segment of the tool, data from the ballots can be viewed by sample, providing a mean average, a mode average, high response, or low response. You can compare samples with each other.

The tool will flag responses that are inconsistent with the other panelists, providing a means for inquiry (Did the panelist have a cold? Hate the style? Was the panelist taking medication? Was inexperience a factor?) These inconsistencies can be removed in order to prevent skewing the mean average. The data can be viewed in the format of bar charts or radar charts.

The ballot can be customized for up to 100 different sensory components. A Glossary appears at the foot of the ballot, to assist the Panelist in determining the exact definition of each sensory element. For example, it explains the difference between samples that are alcoholic vs. those that display fusel alcohol; or the difference between a sharp and clean acidic profile (lactic acid) vs. a vinegar-like profile (acetic acid). To assist those who are in training, it provides “fly over” descriptions (if needed) of those elements with scientific names that can cause confusion such as acelaldehyde, dimethyl sulfide, chlorophenolic, and sulfur dioxide.

The Sensory Data Collection Tool developed by Tony Aiken is an exciting break-through product with a valuable ROI for serious breweries and sensory analysis firms. Its uses are multi-faceted as it continues to be developed into more advanced versions. It is available in a pre-release edition. “We are currently seeking users wishing to try it at greatly reduced introductory prices,” says Aiken. For more information, view the SCDT website at


Photo: Tony Aiken, Software Developer of SDCT

Keep records of your own tasting and evaluation:
The Beer Journal

A Scientific History of Beer:
Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages

You Should Also Read:
Expert in Analytical Services - Gary Spedding PhD
Behind Closed Doors - The Granddaddy of Beer Competitions
Ask the Beer Fox - Becoming a Certified Beer Judge

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