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Monday, January 27, 2014 :00am

For the Love of Beer: A Hopping Classroom Learning Experience

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By Sharon Palermo

Recently I went on a brewery tour at Sam Adams in Boston, MA. We showed up, signed in and of course I quickly checked into Foursquare so that all my friends would know where I was and what I was doing. People needed to know that I was about to get my beer knowledge on.

I am a huge fan of elearning for its convenience and for being able to learn when, what and how I want, no matter where I am. But if it wasn’t for this classroom learning experience at Sam Adams, I would not have found out how and why the beer tasted the way it did when it crossed the middle of my tongue. My computer just isn’t equipped to deliver that type of experience. I realized that I needed to do this in person.

While we waited for the tour to begin, our comical tour guide, Stu, told us a couple of new jokes; although he may not have been as funny as Siri, he still managed to get a couple of laughs from the crowd. It was then explained that we would have to take the tour backwards. No, we didn’t walk through the brewery backwards, that would have been extremely dangerous.  Stu had to start the tour in the beer tasting room; apparently there was a back-up in the tour department. Hey, it’s not like I am complaining …we got to have dessert first….so it was all good.  

There were rows of tables in the tasting room and all of us were asked to file in, find a seat and get to know our neighbors as we were going to be evaluating the beer together. What a great way to learn collaboratively, sampling some great beer side by side with about 100 new friends.

What I learned about the beer glass proved to be pretty interesting. I just thought any glass would do. I was wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, the beers we were evaluating in our generous size sample glasses still tasted great. But when Stu showed us the technical functionality behind the Sam Adams glass, I was pretty impressed. Each part of the glass was designed with a specific purpose and possible measurement in mind: 

Outward lip = delivers the sweetness (malt flavor) to the front of the tongue

Bead inside the rim = creates turbulence to help release flavors

Narrow top = retains hoppiness (or in my case happiness)

Thinner walls = better beer temperature

Rounded shape = collects aromas and temperature control

Laser etching on the bottom = create bubbles that release aromas 

We learned about how appearance attributes to the actual taste profile of the beer. We had to understand why the color would indicate the malt character of the beer and the importance of the clarity of the beer. We had to take our index and middle fingers and look at them through the glass. I thought this was a joke, but it is an actual step in the filtering process. Then we checked out the foam; it had solid foam. It was explained that the thicker the foam, the more protein present from the malted grains. 

Stu also talked to us about the aroma of the beer. He passed around a jar of hops and we were asked to stick our hands in the jar and crush the hops, and then smell our hands. It smelled great! This hands-on lesson taught us how different hops can be detected in the taste of the beer. 

Finally, the best part of this training experience was when we tasted the different beers. On the front of our tongues we could taste the sweetness of the malt and on the back of our tongues we could taste the bitterness and dryness of the beer. The beer evaluation experience was surprisingly educational and on top of that I was relieved to see that we still had enough in the pitchers to share with our group.  We all needed to have a final taste test to be sure this classroom lesson wasn’t for nothing and that everything we learned that day about the art of beer making at Sam Adams would be retained. 

When you think of learning especially in this day of informal learning, MOOC’s and virtual classrooms, you shouldn’t  discount the value of the traditional, more formal classroom setting where I was able to learn what Stu and the brewers do every day at Sam Adams—most likely they do it for the love of beer. 

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