Have you ever wondered how the foods and beverages you often consume taste so good, time after time? You can thank sensory analysts like Briony Liebich, who dedicate their careers to making sure the food and beverages we love meet a certain standard before reaching our mouths.
Briony’s palate has been put to work across the food and beverage sector for the past 17 years, with a particularly long stint in the beer industry at South Australia’s iconic brewery, West End. Through her company Flavour Logic Briony improves product quality and consistency for brands, and enhances their connection with consumers. In addition to her sensory analyst role Briony is an educator, certificated cicerone (like WSET, but for beer), show judge and all round beer industry expert. While you would be correct in thinking that she gets to taste beer and all things delicious for a living, there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye.
So let’s find out what life as a Sensory Analyst looks (or tastes) like, and hear Briony’s thoughts on the current state of the wine and beer industries.
Photographed by John Kruger
Briony in a Snapshot
Do you remember what your first beer was?
Yes, it was Little Creatures Pale Ale. I remember being blown away by the nose like a fruity white wine with citrus and floral aromas – the first time I realised beer could be so fruity.
Where in the world has your passion for beer taken you?
I’ve visited breweries all over Australia, Good Beer Week, and national judging comps. When travelling I’ll always hit up a local brewery or bar. I’ve been lucky to drink beers in America, Mexico, Japan and New Zealand.
If you had to pick a beer for each season, what would they be?
Tough to narrow it down but I’ll go with fruited sour for summer, dark lager for autumn, Belgian ale for winter, hefeweizen for spring.
Most underrated style of beer?
Hefeweizen. As one of the world’s oldest styles, I feel it deserves more attention. It’s so easy drinking with low bitterness that offers an alternative to hop-heavy styles. Interestingly, the last Champion Beer at The Indies, one of the largest beer competitions in Australia, was a Hefeweizen.
The Story So Far
How did you come to be a sensory analyst and expert taster in the beer industry? Sounds like a pretty great gig!
I have a passion for all things sensory including cooking, gardening and aromatherapy. Growing up in a Barossa winemaking family helped develop my sensory skills and appreciate wine. I’ve always been drawn to science which led to work in winery labs. While on a working holiday in the UK, I heard about a job for a sensory analyst working at Provisor alongside the Australian Wine Research Institute. I jumped at the chance to come home learning everything I could about sensory science from experts in the field. When I wanted to gain industry experience, an opportunity arose to manage the sensory program at West End Brewery where I worked for 10 years until the site closed in 2021. Since then, I have launched my Flavour Logic brand with a focus on beer education and sensory quality.
What does being a sensory analyst involve, and what are some of the businesses you’ve worked with in your time?
As enjoyment of food and drink is a driver of purchase and consumption, sensory and consumer evaluation is a key tool in product development and improvement. A sensory researcher may be carrying out projects and designing tests to help understand how our senses work, trialing new methods, or understanding consumer choice behaviours. At the industry level, sensory analysts help guide new product development, manage and train tasting teams, conduct routine product evaluations and report on sensory results to the wider business to ensure quality standards are met. Over the years I have worked with CSIRO, The University of Adelaide, Yalumba Wines, Accolade Wines, Huon Aquaculture and Beerenberg. Besides wine projects, there were fun food projects including serving jelly babies, ice cream, and cooking seafood for a trained tasting panel to assess.
Tell us a bit about your business Flavour Logic, what role does your business play in the beverage and food industry?
Flavour Logic is all about good taste. Over the years I have gained varied experience across research and industry along with judging beer, wine, cider and olive oil. I am putting it all together to offer my skills in sensory and quality to a wider audience. I enjoy sharing how to become a better taster for all levels of experience from the interested consumer to the professional. The more people who appreciate what’s in their glass, the better it is for the industry as a whole.
Do you have any customer success stories you are particularly proud of?
I feel proud when I can tailor sensory training to a company helping their staff become familiar with their own products and learn to differentiate them. It’s even more satisfying when participants from different departments attend so the role of tasting is elevated and staff can build a common language to describe products.
Photographed by John Kruger
What role does education play in the success of the beverage and food industry?
We need more education on how food and drink can affect our senses. Sensory-based education shows people are more willing to try novel flavours and improve their ability to describe flavours. I would love to see more education about product history, key ingredients and particular styles. This extra information helps consumers know what to expect and appreciate what’s in their glass. It’s a win-win for the industry as consumers are willing to spend more and appreciate a range of products. Educated consumers drive the industry to continuously improve their product offerings, diversify their range to fit consumer tastes and trends, and deliver consistent quality products.
How do you think producers should be approaching educating consumers about their products?
Continue to engage consumers in cellar doors and taprooms where possible. Beer and wine always tastes better drinking it where it was produced. Invest in the people who serve your products who can tell the story of your products in ways that make your products memorable. In an online world, embrace technology in all forms to connect with people everywhere. There is room for all kinds of tours and tastings in-person and online.
Between wine and beer, what do you think each industry could learn from the other?
All alcoholic industries are very social and need to work together to win their share of the market as more and more people consume less alcohol. Both need to stop promoting gender-based classification of drinks and embrace low or no alcoholic alternatives.
While wine has traditionally been focused on place and regionality, beer is local to where it is consumed. Beer culture is part of the social fabric of a community and the ‘drink fresh, drink local’ story is an important one. Breweries could learn from wineries that band together and share branding tools to promote a style or region. I think beer has already taken learnings from the wine game by growing hospitality offerings with multiple functions, educational tastings, and direct to consumer sales with exclusive beer clubs.
Why do you think the craft beer industry has been so successful in engaging the new generation of consumers?
Beer culture is fun, dynamic and approachable. Consumers are spoilt for choice and can get good beer anywhere these days. The passion of brewers is infectious and delivers frequent new releases and a world of flavour. A fresh and local approach also attracts many consumers.
In terms of the beverage industry, what do you think have been the biggest game changers in the past decade?
The diversification of offerings and more opportunities to drink a local brew. There are dozens of IPA variants, returning classic styles and collaborations aplenty. We’ve seen the popularity of sours, seltzers, and now the boom in low and non-alcoholic beers. The rapid rise of craft spirits is another game-changer. Digital technology to enable instant product information, online deliveries, and virtual events. Increasing focus on sustainable solutions for ethical supply chains, manufacturing and packaging will never go away. Neither will the impact of social influencers and their inclusion in marketing strategies.
From working with large breweries like West End to independents like Prancing Pony, what do you think producers should be focusing on in the next few years?
On the beer side, I’d love to see differentiation in beer with the stories about why products were made, more beer and food events, and all beer served fresh. Focus on giving beer lovers a great customer experience so they continue to explore with their taste buds.
The industry needs to maintain unique characters of core beer brands, record quality trends and monitor improvements. The bigger picture is to take diversity issues seriously, promote equal opportunity for all, and have courageous conversations about harassment and discrimination which are real problems as shown by a recent Beer Agents for Change survey.
Are there any emerging technologies you see playing a critical role in the future of the beverage and food industry?
We can never replace the human aspect in manufacturing, but speed and accuracy will improve thanks to machines and data management. We’ve already seen major shifts in shopping behaviour, support of local communities, and a surge in sustainable options so continue investing in those areas. I would like to see a wider spread of current technology giving manufacturers real-time data to enable working remotely and improve consistency. Investing in automation, production software, lab equipment and retaining good staff will do more for the food and beverage industry than the latest technologies.