Blind Tasting is the premise behind “The Beer Trials.” The first 60 pages of the 312 page book describe the theory and the process behind the book. The second section offers a B&W photo of each beer accompanied by text describing the brewery, the taste and aroma of each beer, and the design of the bottle and label. Occasionally the author injects his own opinion on the beer and there can be a disconnect with the overall rating, but it’s still enjoyable to read.
“Selling you beer” is the title of Chapter 1. The 1964 experiments of Ralph Allison and Kenneth Uhl from Carling Beer are described, which, in a nutshell, concluded that, “product distinctions…arose primarily through receptiveness to the various firm’s marketing efforts rather than through perceived physical product differences.” The authors of “The Beer Trials” try to further this research. The attempted “to test whether regular beer drinkers in the United States could distinguish between major brands of similarly styled European pale lager.” The result: “Tasters performed no better than chance at identifying two identical beers.” This same experiment was repeated in Bavaria and college students there performed “dramatically” better in identifying the major Munich brands. Further, “most of the subjects…ranked their favorite brand (usually Augustiner) as the best beer in the blind tasting.” During our Starkbierfest trip in March 2010, about 12 of us conducted a blind taste of these same Munich beers on day 1 of our trip with similar results.
The authors chose 250 beers to review. Each beer chosen had to be available in at least 12 states and about half were “large production” and roughly a 1/3 from outside the US and Canada. Each beer was tasted by a rotating panel of 3-6 tasters with 3-9 beers per flight and of the same style when possible. This is where I have some criticism of the approach.Firstly, a panel of 3-6 is too small to provide a comprehensive comparison. Secondly, trying to test foreign beer in the United States is not a fair comparison because of age, transit, and storage factors. For example, Schneider Weisse scored a 7 while Paulaner Weissbier received a 9. Those of us that have been fortunate to taste both at their respective breweries likely would not agree with this assessment.
Still, the reviews are quite fun to read. The lowest score given was a 3 – going to Bud Select 55, Tsingtao, and Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. Here’s a sample of some of the reviews:
Budweiser: Rated a 4: “the beer is flat and thin, with a palate dominated by weak, bready malt…There’s also no aftertaste, which may be the reason for this beer’s popularity: all the alcohol of beer with none of those pesky beer flavors.”
Busch: “It takes all kinds to make up the world of beer drinkers; our experts and brewers rarely agreed unanimously on anything. But we were of one mind on the question of Busch: it’s a poor excuse for a lager” But is was still rated with a “4?
Corona: “it’s hard to get past the fact that Corona Extra is the all-star captain of Team Skunky Beer” Rating of “4?
Ayinger Oktoberfest: “Taster’s delighted at the abundant and complex malt character of this Oktoberfest beer. Ample fruity Munich malt does most of the driving, giving a fresh, almost sweet character…There’s soft bitterness to balance here, and the overall impression is of a deeply drinkable full and round beer with a clean character. Rating of “9?
If you want to entertain, quick read about beer, then you will enjoy this book. Most of the fun is sharing the ratings with your friends and debating the ratings while enjoying your favorite beer!