Robots Blow Us Away in Beer Tasting Ability

After some improvements, an electronic tongue is now smaller and more accurate than ever before—and it loves beer. The device can distinguish between different styles of beer that are grouped under the lager category with an amazing 100 percent accuracy. Could this be the future of beer-tasting?

Taste is not a particularly well-understood sense; the myth that different parts of our tongues detect different core flavors (sour, sweet, salty) still persists, for example. But there are teams of researchers working to replicate the very complex and multifaceted sense in robots, and one of the foremost goals in the early stage of this process is to be able to detect different kinds of beer.

Lisa Marie Potter of Science 2.0 alerts us to a new article published in the Journal of Food Engineering that shows significant progress in the efforts to create a robotic beer sommelier. (Real beer sommeliers exist; there are several different organizations that crown master tasters.) Coming from researchers at the University of Valladolid in Spain, the newest electronic taster is focused on more minute differences between beers than ever before.

Previous beer tasters, like this one from last year, worked on the ability to tell the differences between totally different beers. But the new one was tested by giving it different varieties of lager, theoretically a much smaller difference and thus a much more difficult task. It mostly concentrates on alcohol content and color, which are indicative of flavor and preparation method and much easier to distinguish than, say, acid levels or “hoppiness.”

The new tester, which is portable and about the size of a two cigarette packs, is able to tell the color correctly 76 percent of the time and the alcohol content 86 percent of the time. When a model is constructed that includes both tests, it was able to correctly identify any of the four beer styles with 100 percent accuracy.

So why would you want an electronic beer taster? Beer, like most other foods, undergoes intense quality testing before it leaves the brewery. Especially for macro-brewers—think Budweiser or Coors—it’s really important to ensure that each batch of beer tastes exactly like the last. Human tasters are employed to do that now, but a robotic tester could make that process cheaper, quicker, easier, and, potentially in the future, even more reliable. Amazing!

Image via Flickr user Cyril Caton

Robots Blow Us Away in Beer Tasting Ability