Located on the outskirts of London's Bermondsey's industrial estates, Fourpure Brewing Co. had a unique visit planned for us. They've been training their crew on sensory panels to make everyone at the operation partially responsible for the quality of their beer.
"If a customer complains, we want to be able to send someone from the brewery to taste the product and confirm or deny that's there's an issue," a brewery tech explains.
In their lab, they set up three laptops, dividers, and a cheat sheet for flavor descriptors where employees come twice a week to train their palates and contribute to a growing data set. It's an impressive commitment for this small but fast-growing brewery sending more and more of its beer out in cans to larger retailers. They're also contract canning for a number of other breweries like Meantime, Fullers, and Windsor & Eton (Uprising). It's a smart utilization of some expensive equipment that gives the team more turns and experience in a short time. Packaging quality can make or break a brewery of this sort.
"I spiked a couple of the samples with off flavors, let's see how you did," our tech says as he pulls up our results.
The IPA was clearly spiked, but I missed the descriptor, calling it papery rather than leathery. And I scored the Pils quite low, even though it was fresh off the line that morning and untouched. It lacked cut and was a bit thin in my description. Not a lot of air left in the room after that result.
Back in the tasting room, rather than be turned off the Pils, I opted for a glass instead. Taking a gulp and enjoying the way a fresh beer fills the mouth and hits the back of the throat, the still-middling bitterness cascades far more effectively, returning a retronasal earthiness and lemon quality that a small plastic cup in a sensory panel simply couldn't provide. Not enough to make it a standout beer, per se, but enough to be pleasing over the bar amongst some new friends—not to mention to expose the limitations of more analytical sipping and coding.
"Want to try something fun?" asks Rob, one of the directors.
It was as though I'd been in a fog all morning until that moment as the bursting aroma of fresh peaches filled my nose and the balanced bitterness of an excellent citrusy Pale Ale wet my palate. I have a feeling I'd skew the data set with my evaluation of this one, but I'd be willing to do it twice a week all the same.