FlavorActiV Cider Sensory Kit Series One

This is a unique review…not of a cider, but of FlavorActiV’s Cider Sensory Kit Series One.  Kits like this are used in cider sensory analysis classes (such as at CiderCon – see this great post at Along Came a Cider, or for cider certification courses such as USACM CCP or NACM), at cideries for cidermaker education, for judge preparation at a cider competition, etc.  It enables the taster to identify the scent and flavor of specific individual compounds (typically faults) which may occur in cider.  I heard about it through CiderGuide, and was intrigued enough to contact the company.

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About: This kit was developed specifically for the cider industry in conjunction with one of their global beer/cider customers.  They are currently developing a Series Two kit, and are interested to get industry feedback on it.  They will also soon launch an open cider taster proficiency scheme (see here for more information) so that cider producers can regularly train and test themselves.  FlavorActiV offers over 125 flavor standards, including kits for beer, wine, and coffee.  Here is info on the individual cider flavor standards they sell in addition to this kit of 10 standards.

>>This is a review of a sample kit provided to Cider Says by FlavorActiV.  Although I will take care to treat it the same as any other review, there is always the potential for bias as I received it for free.  The only consideration I knowingly made was pushing this up in my review cue.  I love free stuff, especially cider!  Want your cider or cider-related product reviewed here?  Contact me.<<

Samples included: Sour, Musty, Earthy, Barnyard, Phenolic, Acetaldehyde (Acetal), Sulphitic, Indole, Metallic, Mercaptan

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Cost: 120 pounds ($170 USD), with free worldwide shipping.  Note that one kit makes approximately 1.2 liters (40.6 oz) of each sample, and a 100 ml (3.4 oz) sample is recommended for each taster, so one kit is recommended for 12 tasters (and can probably be used for even more with smaller sample sizes).

How to order: Through their website or by e-mailing cider@flavoractiv.com.  For more information, to provide feedback, or to purchase, their e-mail is cider@flavoractiv.com.  I received this within a few days even though it traveled from the UK to Seattle WA USA.

Packaging: Bubble mailer, with the samples in capsules individually packaged in a booklet, padded with cardboard so they couldn’t be crushed.

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In the box:

  • 10 capsules in a booklet, labeled by type, with descriptions
  • Instructions
  • Flavour Wheel of tastes and odors
  • Handout of the 20 year history of FlavorActiV Flavor Standards
  • Brochure on their technical taste panel training and management products

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Instructions:

  • Empty the powder in each capsule into 200 ml (6.8 oz) of cider, then swirl the container to release the flavor.
  • Top off the container with 1 liter (33.8 oz) of cider to reach the recommended tasting concentration.
  • Pour a 100ml (3.4 oz) sample for each taster.
  • (Therefore as-directed, you would need 12 liters of cider to mix the powder into, but it would be for 12 people.)

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Supplies I used:

  • three 12oz cans of cider
  • 1/4 cup (50ml) measuring cup (x2)
  • 11 tasting glasses which held at least 4oz (one for each sample plus a control)
  • butter knife to stir with
  • index cards
  • pencil

My experience:

  • I purchased 2 Towns OutCider, which I consider to be fairly neutral, and is cost effective as it comes in a multi pack (plus I like it).  Oddly enough I didn’t have any suitable cider in the house as the only ciders I had more than 1 bottle/can of were flavored.
  • To use less cider, I ratioed down the powder to make a smaller sample size, as it was just me.
  • I ended up emptying out each capsule onto an index card, taking a pinch of the powder and putting it into a glass (estimating 1/12), then adding 100ml of cider.
    • It worked out fairly well, and I could add cider or add powder to change the ratio if needed.  I ended up only adding more powder, not cider.
  • Of the 10 capsules, one was difficult to open so I cut it open and one had a bit of powder left in it (slight bit of moisture).  Overall they were fairly easy to use.
  • I used all the tasting glasses I had in the house.  I think small clear plastic disposable cups would be ideal, especially for a group, as ideally you want to prepare all the samples at once, instead of one by one.  The instructions call for a pitcher to mix it in, but the way I did it, I didn’t need one.  I found the powder easily dissolved, so I didn’t really need to add a bit of cider, stir, then add more, like they recommended.
  • The recommended 100ml was a good sample size when doing it individually as it was enough to stir.  For a group when mixing it in a pitcher, an even smaller sample size could probably be used.  I only had a couple sips of most of them as the only flavor I actually enjoyed was sour (this is a learning exercise, not a pleasant tasting experience).

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<I labeled each index card>

The samples:

  • Control (2 Towns OutCider): Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Slightly cloudy as it is less filtered than most ciders.  Smells mild, of only apples.  Low to moderate tartness & acidity.  No bitterness, sourness, funk, or tannins.  I think this was a fairly good choice for a neutral cider (their Bright Cider would have probably been even better, but I like Out Cider much more).  As a bonus I have 3 cans of cider left.
  • Sour: Scent unchanged.  Flavor change was citric acid tartness, not a true “sourness” like sour beer.
  • Musty: Scent impacted.  Flavor was muted and the musty effect lingered on the palate.  Tasted like an antique shop.
  • Earthy: Scent greatly impacted, and it smelled exactly like fresh dirt.  Flavor wasn’t as impacted as smell.  This was a negative type of earthiness, not the pleasant type which I’ve found in some ciders with significant tannins.
  • Barnyard: Scent moderately impacted; it smelled of dirt plus “wild”.  Taste slightly impacted, mostly in the finish.
  • Phenolic: Scent slightly impacted.  I didn’t taste anything, so I added more powder.  Then I got some citrus scent and a slightly herbal & floral flavor.  Overall I found it very mild, even when I tripled the amount of powder.
  • Acetaldehyde (Acetal): Scent impacted, smelling of chemicals like paint.  Flavor impacted, and it overall just tasted “off”.  Really difficult to describe.
  • Sulphitic: Scent not impacted.  Slight sulfur flavor and flatness.  I added more powder and it became more of a chemical flavor.
  • Indole: Scent and flavor not impacted, so I added more powder.  I only smelled and tasted a bit of floral.  Overall very mild.
  • Metallic: Scent not impacted.  I didn’t taste anything either, so I added more powder.  Then I picked up a flatness and dulling of the flavor.  Overall very mild.
  • Mercaptan: Scent very strongly impacted, of sulphur.  Disgusting strong sulphur sewer type flavor.

My comments:

  • This is great for a large group/class, but the kit isn’t sized for one person.  I would have needed 12 liters of cider to make as directed.  However, it was definitely doable to scale it down without too much effort.  The powder to cider ratio doesn’t need to be exact, and it can be adjusted with more powder or cider if necessary.
    • In fact, I liked having extra powder left as there were a few samples I couldn’t detect, so I was able to keep adding powder until I tasted them.
    • I think the only easier way to do it would be to have the samples as drops, but I’m not sure if that is a stable way to store them.
  • Some other samples I would have liked to see, which I assume may be included in Series 2 (and some of which they currently offer individually):
    • Diacetyl, a buttery off-flavor formed by yeast; its something I’ve thought I’ve tasted a couple times, but wasn’t sure about
    • True sour, like sour beer, often from wild fermentation…very different from tart
    • Acetic, a vinegar-like flavor often found in Spanish cider
  • Sensory analysis such as this is really helpful to help you detect certain scents and flavors in cider, much more than just a description of that scent/flavor.  Everyone experiences these differently too (for example, with a few samples I barely detected anything)

In closing: I’m glad I got the opportunity to test out this kit.  I haven’t yet attended a cider sensory course, so this was a great introduction!  It was educational, easy to use, well-packaged, and a good value when using it for a group.  I look forward to seeing what else they come out with (such as the Series Two kit).

I should note that other companies make flavor standards which I haven’t tried/compared to FlavorActiV.  However, the only other company I found online which seemed to have samples geared specifically for cider was Aroxa.

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