FOR someone with a deep love of beer there can be no better job than an official taster at a major brewer.
So for Gordon Tate, who has written about beer in the Mail for the last five years, joining a beer panel is a labour of love.
But there's more to being part of Molson Coors sensory taste panel than you might think and a subtle palate with the ability to detect all the nuances a beer can offer is essential.
Gordon started working for Tetley's in 1977 when it was part of Allied Breweries. He was based in Leeds for 12 years, then moved on to Warrington and later Burton.
"Everyone who worked for Carlsberg-Tetley ended up in Burton at some point," he says.
Gordon's background is in marketing but while at Burton he joined the company's 'non technical' taste panel.
"There was a panel of brewers and another of lay employees with a genuine interest in beer. I was trained how to taste beer, to look out for the aromas, to note whether a beer had esters in it, sulphurs, imperfections and so on."
Gordon went on to work for Marston's, where he learned more about 'brewing from the wood' and cask beers but then moved outside the drinks industry, although he has continued to undertake special projects.
Five years ago he joined the Burton Mail to write about the best bottled beers available in supermarkets.
He's sampled hundreds of beers, all in the line of duty, and has then made recommendations to Mail readers. His search for top quality beers has resulted in annual awards with Gordon naming his best bottled brews.
Now he's using his expertise to help Molson Coors after joining the Burton brewer's sensory taste panel – one of a team of 12 who will be monitoring the beers produced. Perhaps surprisingly, there are eight women to four men on the panel, blowing away the myth of the stereotypical beer enthusiast. Indeed, the panel is led by a woman, Janice Chilver.
Gordon has already slotted in well.
He says: "We meet three times a week and sample beers – not only those going out from Burton but from other breweries in the group. We are mainly looking to see if they meet the required spec and quality control.
"Alternatively, we might be sampling experimental brews. For the last couple of weeks we have been trying a lot of Serbian andCroatian beers to try to product-match the beers that are produced by Molson Coors in Eastern Europe."
Each of the beers has a flavour profile – a guideline on the characteristics they should contain. Qualities such as bitterness, sweetness, hop and malt levels are designated. The panel's job is to see how closely the beers are meeting their profiles.
They are also looking for imperfections.
Gordon says: "There might be some sulphur that shouldn't be there. There could be a problem with the barley. There are so many elements to the brewing procedure.
"There are several breweries producing Carling for example and Molson Coors is very keen that the quality and specification of the beer that leaves all the breweries is up to the same high standard. It should be as uniform as possible – clear, fresh with the right amount of hops and fruitiness. That needs to be monitored on an ongoing process."
There are so many elements and variables in the brewing process that consistency is a difficult thing to achieve.
Gordon says: "It's virtually impossible to get it exactly the same all the time and if you are talking about cask beers, the variation is part of the attraction for drinkers. That's fine as long as they remain within the specification range.
"But we are at the sharp end in making sure a batch doesn't go out that isn't quite right. If it doesn't meet the specifications it shouldn't reach the customer."
If a beer is in a clear or green bottle it can be 'light-struck' where the ultra-violet rays from natural light affects the composition.
"So you can see it's more complicated than you might think," says Gordon.
After judging beers as a critic for the Mail Gordon says he's now coming at it from the opposite end of the scale.
"Normally, I'm looking for what I like in beers and what I would recommend to someone else. On the taste panel we are quite often looking for imperfections.
"I personally prefer cask beers but we are tasting a lot of keg lagers. What I like is an irrelevance. It's about the beer meeting its own targets."