Sampling Beer to Find the Perfect Malting Barley Part II with Evan Craine


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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: We have split today’s episode into two parts. This is the second half of our two-part episode with Evan Craine.

Drew Lyon: I’ve been to a few festivals where beer has been present and they can get rather interesting at times, I’m wondering what it was like for you to conduct the sensory evaluation study at a Brewfest, and what kind of results did you see from that testing?

Evan Craine: Yeah, it was quite an experience. So that whole process I just described with the consumer panel, that was all done in sensory booths so people are blocked off, they’re really focused, there’s not a lot of distractions, you know, everything’s under the same lighting conditions, things like that. So it’s a very controlled environment and as you can imagine, a Brewfest is kind of on the opposite side of the spectrum. And so, one question that we were really interested in was, what kind of information can we get from people in a setting like that? So the — this was actually the second year of the same varieties that were grown and used in the first study, were grown on a much larger scale, and then they were sent to a craft malt house and they were malted on a commercial scale. And so what came out of that was enough malt that then breweries could then buy the malt and it was sold at a pretty competitive price as part of the research project. But they could buy the malt of these experimental or new potential barley varieties and brew beers with them. And a lot of breweries did brew beers with them, so we had a partner brewery over in Olympia who brewed our beer that we ended up using in this test pool so they actually brewed four of the, four beers for us to work with. Three of those were WSU breeding lines and one was that controlled variety, Copeland. And the reason we lost one of the varieties is because it went into the variety release pipeline and that is now Palmer, spring barley released by Kevin. And so at the Brewfest, when people were tasting these beers, we first just had them rank the beers, which is a relatively easy task for someone to do. I mean it’s intuitive in that we rank a lot of things in our life, so just tasting them and then ranking them was a pretty easy ask. But we didn’t just stop there, we wanted them to describe it in their own words. We were thinking, people going to a Brewfest, you know, maybe they’re beer geeks or beer nerds or they’re really into beer, or maybe they just like beer or maybe they were just there to have a good time. We were going to get a whole different group of people tasting these beers and so, we wanted to have them describe it in their own words. They’d be uninhibited in terms of the terms, they wouldn’t be selecting from a list, we wouldn’t be influencing them in any way and we got some pretty interesting responses, a lot of different descriptions from people, and then we also asked them to use a beer flavor map that has been published with all sorts of different terms; it’s broken out by taste, so things like sweet, sour, and bitter; mouth-feel, so what did the bubbles feel like, is there any astringency or like a drying sensation in your mouth? And then all kinds of aroma categories so fruity, citrus, earthy, nutty; all kinds of different things. We had them select from those categories and we didn’t see as many differences in terms of the flavor profiles that we got. It was, like you mentioned for the consumer panel, your reaction to that, it was kind of all over the place. And the big differences that we saw were some of those taste attributes, so things like sour or bitter, things that are easier to perceive, more natural sensations when you’re tasting something. And so, those differences that we saw, there was one breeding line that was ranked lower than all the rest, and that beer was actually really challenging to malt for the maltster because in the field it had really variable protein content, which is a huge indicator of grain quality and whether or not a harvest is going to, or a crop is going to make it to a malt house, but is was malted anyway as part of the study and what we learned from that is because of that really variable protein content from the field, it had really variable malting and malt quality and it was a challenging barley to work with and to brew a beer with. And people described that beer as sour, as bitter, and as dairy, actually, came out of all those responses as something that stood out for that one in particular. So not really great descriptors for a beer that you would want to enjoy at a Brewfest and we’re thinking that’s why it was ranked lower than the others.

Drew Lyon: Okay, a question that pops into my head is how big are these samples you’re having people take, I’m thinking back to one of my first wine tastings I had and I think there were going to be like eight flights of wine and I was done after three because my sample size was a little too large for me. [ laughter ] How much beer did they consume of each one as they were trying to make these determinations for you?

Evan Craine: It’s around, it’s basically one ounce so if you can imagine like a one-ounce, like a shot glass or something like that, that’s how much each person was getting so in total they would be consuming around four ounces of beer. And the primary reason for that is when we go get this research certified to work with human subjects to do this sensory, we don’t want to give people too much. You know, they’re already at the Brewfest so that was a quantity that was deemed to be appropriate. [ Drew chuckles ] We also gave them crackers when they were tasting to kind of offsite the consumption of the alcohol, and then something that people really went wild for was as a compensation for their time and all their information, they got a three-ounce portion of Cougar Gold cheese, which, if you’ve ever gone over to the west side of the state, it is a highly lucrative product to come by. [ Drew laughs ] So people were ecstatic, a lot of Cougs there and when they saw the sign; taste beer for cheese, they were pretty much sold. [ Drew laughs ]

Drew Lyon: Very good. I find this really interesting because it’s a good marriage between genetics and what, you know, the kind of story I get a lot when I talk to plant breeders, and then this consumer side, this less exact science, more sensory thing. I think that’s really pretty interesting and I think the marriage of those two things are interesting. Are you finding it to be somewhat challenging to marry those two things or they come together pretty easy for you?

Evan Craine: I find it really fascinating so it’s easy for me to think of these projects and how to bring those two things together. There’s a little bit of discovery or exploration in terms of how are we going to do this? How are we going to design a study to answer these questions, they’re pretty new, trying to bring these things together. But there’s some great folks who are working on similar questions in other products or in other plants, things like vegetable crops. Oregon State University’s doing a lot of great research on barley and barley flavor. And like Julie Dawson at UW Madison, who graduated from Steve Jones’ program, she’s doing really great work with sensory with vegetables, so there are great resources out there and yeah, it’s just a really cool field to be in and that kind of nexus of plant science and food science and consumer behavior and we’re just going to have to keep doing these studies because each one is kind of a snapshot in time, you know, we grab the people from the Brewfest that want to do the study, or we recruit people to come in for two days and taste it and then my job is to obsess over analyzing all the data and making it make sense but we have to remind ourselves that it was just that one snapshot in time. It was kind of a one-off, so it’s a hard trait to work on, flavor, you know, each person’s going to perceive things differently, they’re going to report that perception differently. They might not have the words or the right vocabulary or language to take what they’re experiencing and then tell you what it is. So, it’s a challenging thing to work in but we’re very thankful to have great collaborators like Caroline Ross, who’s been doing really great work in wine and other products and was a huge help for these malt and beer sensory studies.

Drew Lyon: Well thank you, Evan, for coming in and talking a little bit about your dissertation work, we wish you very well as you work on this and finish up your Ph.D. We’ll be looking forward to seeing the results of your work at some time in the near future. Thanks.

Evan Craine: Thank you so much for the opportunity.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: This was part one of our two-part episode with Evan Craine. Please subscribe and join us in two weeks for the second half of our interview. Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s –( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.