Everyone’s a winner with Spirit Sensory Analysis!

Everyone’s a winner with Spirit Sensory Analysis!

A few times a year, I have the pleasure and privilege of judging some of the largest international drinks competitions. Aside from the odd sample that leaves you wondering if the producer really meant it to taste like that, they are as enjoyable as they sound. At these events you rub shoulders with the high-profile experts/journalists/influencers who use their palate and communication skills to help us ordinary people understand what good and great means when it comes to drinks.

At a recent judging, I mentioned we were developing a sensory analysis course. I was quickly offered paid assistance to ensure that the course covered cultured palate development and the art of identifying prestigious flavour. I politely declined the offer. It was neither the time, nor the place to explain how sensory analysis differs from subjectively evaluating drinks. 

So what is sensory analysis?

If sensory analysis involved employing drinks journalists or social media influencers to give your product the thumbs up, or explain where you are going wrong, you wouldn’t need a course on it. As a drinks producer, it’s always thrilling to receive an award. However, if you tried to run a distillery using your success or lack thereof in competitions as a gauge of your products’ quality, you may quickly run out of people willing to pay you for your wares. Competitions are designed to make money, promote the category and to sell prizes. They are not designed to measure quality. Even if the competition is brilliantly organised and judged by distillers, the results are still just the consensus of their personal opinions.

When we use sensory analysis in the distillery, we need objective and robust results. Everything from the selection of the assessors to how the spirit is presented and results evaluated is designed to remove the influence of expectation, peer pressure, fashion and for most tests even personal preference. What we get from sensory analysis is true and accurate information about the product or some of its attributes.

Taste and smell are complicated, actually very complicated. What you taste and smell when evaluating or enjoying a spirit is how you perceive the flavour compounds in the spirit. It is how the spirit tastes to you. This may or may not be how it tastes to the person sitting next to you. In fact, statistically it’s quite unlikely to be. This is why the expert’s view is not the best guide to the true quality of your spirits. The best guide is a properly run sensory panel.

What is the sensory analysis course?

The Spirit Sensory Analysis Course gives you the skills, knowledge and tools required to recruit, train and run such a panel. After the course you will be able to run the sensory tests that can guide you to delivering a product your customers will love again and again. You will also get to know the compounds responsible for the flavour of the main spirit types. 

The Spirit Sensory Analysis Course was developed with the assistance of leading sensory professionals and distillers. It features text, videos, animations, along with quizzes and games that give you the opportunity to check your understanding of each section and to extend your learning. At the end of the course, you will receive the certificate of completion. There is also a downloadable 69-page pdf with:

  • Technical information
  • 9 spirit flavour wheels
  • Flavour thresholds and descriptors for over 300 key spirit flavour compounds
  • Flavour standard specifications
  • Tasting forms
  • Statistical tables
  • Equations and calculations

There is one final and very pertinent difference between spirit sensory analysis and spirit competitions. It costs about £350 per product to enter a competition, but only £90 to become proficient in using sensory analysis in your distillery with our new course!


Written by Stuart Howe, Technical Development Manager at the IBD.

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