West End Brewery’s closure a year ago may have marked the end of more than 160 years of brewing at the Thebarton site, but for Briony Liebich it represented an opportunity.
Having spent some ten years with the company and many more working in the broad world we can define as “tasting tasty things”, the sensory analyst behind Flavour Logic was ready to step out on her own.
“In hindsight, I must have been working on a backup plan,” she says.
Even before Briony studied science at university, she seemed destined to pursue a career in the alcohol industry, with her parents owning a small winery in the Barossa Valley. Her science degree led to work in a lab and a life as a sensory specialist and consultant, one that saw her engaging not just with winemakers but also with a range of producers, including ice cream and seafood.
It might all sound a little ad hoc but, as Briony points out, working in sensory isn’t the kind of field where there's a clear pathway.
“The people I’ve met at sensory conferences have all come in from anywhere,” she tells The Crafty Pint. “Marketing, production, sales – not many go straight from uni.”
After spending time in the research space, Briony wanted to make the move to a fast-paced business. And while she might not have been a lover of beer when she joined Adelaide’s historic West End Brewery, it proved the perfect fit.
“I worked with someone else from a wine background and we were both just constantly fascinated,” she says. “I like to say I learnt something new every day.”
As a sensory analyst and laboratory technician at the Lion-owned brewery, Briony worked across the brewery’s beer, cider and RTD production to solve possible quality concerns while also running sensory training for staff and managing teams of tasters.
Across weekly and daily blind tasting sessions, they’d make sure the finely-tuned mainstream lagers like West End Draught tasted exactly as they should from batch to batch and interrogate what time and oxygen would do to the products.
“I worked with people who were so well trained they could guess the age of a beer just by smelling it,” Briony says. “But, of course, they are tasting the same product nearly every day.”
Those tasting sessions fell into three categories: level one was more about introducing staff to beer basics and making sure they could pick up the broad differences between West End's offerings.
“Then there’s the level two, which is clearance tasting," Briony says. "Is it good West End or not good West End? Level three was the full profile in terms of intensity of bitterness or something like oxidation.”
Over time, a passion for beer and for exploring new styles grew. While at Lion, Briony regularly judged beer and, having learnt so much on the job, she looked to boost that knowledge further by becoming a Certified Cicerone.
“I fell into sensory, and beer and judging opened my eyes to the wide range of styles,” she says. “Since most of my training had been on-the-job training, I wanted a bit more qualification.”
So, armed with knowledge and experience aplenty, when the doors of West End were shuttered she felt it was the opportune time to start her own business – even with the pandemic still very much present.
“That did give me a confidence boost with the ability to be able to work from home and run an online business while doing courses.”
That said, you could argue the arrival of Flavour Logic was more a case of restart than fresh start: Briony first launched the business a decade ago before letting it fall dormant. Today, in its renewed guise, Flavour Logic makes full use of her years of industry experience to help demystify the tasting process, boost beer knowledge, and develop sensory programs.
And while beer might be the main focus – to date, Briony has largely been working with breweries in South Australia, including Smiling Samoyed, Prancing Pony, Loophole and Pikes – she also works across wine, cider, spirits and a range of food products, while also judging across drinks categories and working with TAFE SA.
Much of her focus is on trained on helping smaller breweries put good quality assurance practices in place. This includes running blind tastings for brewery and hospitality staff, masterclasses for anyone looking to better understand what’s in their glass, and help breweries develop sensory programs.
“Most people are keen on sensory but often don’t have the time,” she says.
Since relaunching Flavour Logic, she's been surprised by a few issues encountered across breweries. While many make sure multiple staff taste their beers before they're released, quite a few don’t retain stock so they can assess how they hold up over time, or have a reference point if an issue arises.
“I’ll ask someone for six-month-old IPA to compare with a fresh one and some of them don’t even have them,” Briony says.
“They’re also samples to train people with; people use off-flavours but I like to use real examples – so don’t throw away your defects.”
In terms of other simple advice, she says: “Craft breweries – particularly larger ones – often set weekly or monthly times for sensory but they don’t stick to them. Set up a permanent invite that staff are actually invited to.”
Flavour Logic offers a raft of options for brewers, but a highlight for the business founder is running blind tasting sessions. It’s a space in which labels are gone, everyone’s input is the same. and everyone at the table knows as much as the person next to them – all reasons why we've loved running them for years at The Crafty Pint.
“What gives me a lot of satisfaction is when you have the mix of departments in there, so with Prancing Pony they had sales staff in there along with a mix of other staff and owners," Briony says. "Pikes and Loophole both have wineries attached to them, so they had cellar door staff who found it really useful to sit with brewing staff.”
This desire to ensure staff from all facets of a business know what a fault is, or how to detect the right flavours, is something that stood out in her days at West End – and still feels like something that separates beer from the world of wine.
“With beer, you do treat everyone equally," she says. "So we’d often have people from the office, admin and engineers in there – really anyone across operations."
You can view other entries in The Collaborators series here.
The photos at the top and bottom of this story are by John Krüger.