Making sure every SABMiller beer has just the right blend of flavours requires training, dedication and a finely-honed palate. Congratulations to Tuan Ngoc Pham, who overcame competition from 2,000 others to win our Taster of the Year award.

Tuan Ngoc Pham from Vietnam has been named SABMiller Taster of the Year 2015 – only the second man ever to win the coveted award, following Ezio Messina’s win last year.

Five finalists go through from our regions to compete in a demanding day-long taste-off. Three rounds, held simultaneously at tasting centres around the world, put their taste buds to the ultimate test. In this, its seventh year, the competition was tougher than ever.

In round one, the tasters have to recognise eight flavours within eight samples of beer. In round two, the tasters are given nine samples of beer from each of which they must rate the intensity of two different flavours. And in the third and final round, which took place on 10 February, the tasters are given four beer samples each containing two flavours, which they must identify.

The sessions are quite a challenge physically and mentally. As this is the highest standard of tasting in the brewing industry, we use Aroxa to produce the materials for the test, and Cara Technology to provide the independent adjudication.

Getting the perfect taste for each brand of beer – and then making sure every single batch is up to the same high standard – is crucial to us. While it might be the best job in the world for an aficionado, tasting with the best isn’t simply a matter of enjoying the subtle interplay of flavours in a good beer; it demands training, dedication and more than a dash of natural talent.

We don’t rely on machines to taste, because we aren’t making beer for machines, we’re brewing our beer for real people. People are more sensitive than a million dollars of lab equipment.
Dr Adam Fenton |Manager of Technical Insights,SABMiller plc

“Anyone can volunteer to be a taster,” Adam explains, “and most have other jobs within the group. They typically spend an hour per day testing samples, and one to two weeks per year being trained. They also have monthly sessions in which their ability to identify desirable and undesirable flavours is validated.”

The competition is completely objective. “We send out the flavour compounds that represent naturally-occurring tastes from raw materials or the brewing process. For example, the buttery note that is essential in a beer like Pilsner Urquell or a vinegary note that might be caused by contamination.”

This year it was Pham who emerged victorious and he did so in style, with an overall score of 90%.

The secret of Pham’s success? “He did an astounding job,” says Adam. “This win reflects the enormous effort the Vietnamese team put into their work.

“They spend a great deal of time and effort in training, and ensuring that their brands are of the highest quality, even though Vietnam is a small market for us. They produce great beers in Zorok, Gambrinus Superior, and Zorok Super and they are right to be very proud of those brands as well as their tasters.”

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