Exploring the Art and Science of Beer with Bainbridge Brewing’s Chelsea Dalton at the BARN

By Jenn Hemmingsen

If you’ve been to Bainbridge Brewing, you know Chelsea Dalton. 

As the Retail Operations and Taproom Manager, the craft beer aficionado and Washington native keeps things humming at both the brewing company’s taproom at Coppertop Park and the alehouse in downtown Winslow.

Chelsea Dalton pours a pint
Bainbridge Brewing’s Chelsea Dalton

In her free time, she helps students at BARN develop their beer-tasting skills by teaching Culinary Arts Studio classes that examine one ingredient at a time.

Beer tasting combines art and science, blending sensory perception with technical analysis. It involves using your senses to evaluate characteristics like color, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel and then describing these experiences to others.

Chelsea’s own journey into beer tasting began over a decade ago in a distinctive role as a Beer Traffic Controller at California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Company. In this position, she managed the intricate logistics of beer orders and inventory across the expansive brewery.

Alongside her operational duties, Chelsea also volunteered with the sensory team, honing her tasting skills and learning about flavor profiles, ensuring the batches met the brewery’s high standards before they were shipped.

“I took to that immediately,” she says. “I loved it. Nerded out on it – and it turned out I had a pretty good palate.”

Chelsea was invited to serve on a more elite panel and underwent extensive training. Eventually became the brewery’s sensory technician, training others to identify the intricate flavors and aromas that make each beer unique.

While brewing has a rich history dating back to ancient times and has been in large-scale production since the 1800s, the industry is constantly evolving with new products and processes. 

Craft beer brewers are always experimenting with new ingredients beyond hops and malt, incorporating fruits, spices, and unconventional grains like quinoa. Barrel aging has become popular, with brewers using bourbon, wine, or rum barrels to impart unique flavors. Sour and wild ales are gaining traction, utilizing wild yeast strains and bacteria for complex and tart profiles. Experimental techniques like kettle souring and alternative fermentation vessels contribute to diverse flavor profiles. Brewers also prioritize sustainability, using locally sourced ingredients, minimizing water and energy use, and exploring eco-friendly packaging. 

Chelsea’s enthusiasm for staying abreast of these changes and her eagerness to share her knowledge with fellow enthusiasts is palpable.

“When I hear someone say, ‘I don’t like beer,’ I consider that a great challenge,” Chelsea says. “ I know that they probably haven’t tried every possible type of beer that exists, and I know that the rainbow of beer out there is so broad – it’s not all just fizzy yellow Bud Light-type stuff. It’s not all super bitter IPAs. There are incredibly sweet beers and some really sour beers. Some are very effervescent, and others are almost molasses-thick.”

Recognizing the subjectivity of taste, Chelsea encourages individuals to develop their own ‘flavor lexicons’ by drawing on familiar tastes. For instance, she might ask people to associate beer flavors with those of common breakfast cereals, given the shared use of grains in both. This approach allows individuals to identify common elements in beers they enjoy, empowering them to make informed choices about which beers to try next.

Her approach is not just straightforward but also welcoming. She breaks down the complexities of brewing into digestible insights, including tricks for assessing the quality of a given brew. Using the same techniques used to train judges for brewing competitions, Chelsea teaches students how to spot off-flavors and recognize signs of aging or improper storage.

Learning beer tasting is not just about developing a sophisticated palate or understanding the nuances of brewing it’s about discovering a vibrant world of flavors and expanding your sensory horizons. Whether they’re drawn to the artistry of describing intricate aromas and tastes or the scientific exploration of brewing techniques and ingredient combinations, Chelsea invites enthusiasts to explore the limitless possibilities of beer, encouraging them to embrace its diversity and complexity with every sip.

Jenn Hemmingsen is a writer, mom, and dabbler in many creative pursuits. She’s the Marketing Communications Coordinator at BARN. Contact her at jennh@bainbridgebarn.org.

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