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Friday, March 31, 2006

Head to head beer taste-test

Having had enough of statistical tea-testing (inside joke), I bought two brands of beer this week -- Summit Grand "pilsener" (Bohemian style) and Schell "pilsener" -- for an impromptu test of my wife's tasting abilities. She comes from 100 percent German stock consider beer as dear as mother's milk. Thus, I was not surprised she got every one of these four combinations correct ("her answer in quotes"), even though I revealed nothing about the sources, saying there may be from one to four beers:
- Grand vs Grand "same"
- Grand vs Schell "different, but I don't prefer one or the other"
- Schell vs Grand "different, but I don't prefer one or the other"
- Schell vs Schell "same".
The Grand beer is clearer, less expensive and offers a twist-off cap, so my wife and I will stay with this brand made in my home town of Saint Paul, Minnesota (Schell is made in New Ulm -- a German settlement in the southwest of the State).

I would appreciate other ideas for a simple, but scientifically valid (?) taste-off like this for beverages or foods. My very cursory internet search brought up an article by James Fallows in the e-zine "Slate" titled Booze You Can Use, Getting the best beer for your money, but I do not necessarily advocate its methodology. I do happen to like Sam Adams a lot, which the Microsoft employees doing the tasting rated as best. Well before 1984, when Jim Koch founded The Boston Beer Company and the idea of a microbrewery, a chemist friend of mine snobbishly proclaimed that he only drank the "champagne of bottled beer," Miller, and not the much cheaper (at that time) Old Milwaukee brand. I'd just taken a marketing class for my MBA that revealed that beers of this era (late 1970's) were all essentially the same, but advertisers duped drinkers into paying more for "premium" brews. The chemist refused to believe this, so two of us chemical engineers set up a beer-tasting contest for a Super Bowl party. First we all sipped 10 brands of beer straight out of the bottle (perhaps a bit too much!). The chemist rated Miller top and "Old Swill-waukee" bottom. Then we repeated the test with beers poured blind to the tasters. The chemist unknowingly declared Old Milwaukee his favorite and, you guessed it, Miller the worst tasting. Of course by then he was good and drunk, but the point was made. Anyways, we sure had a lot of fun pretending to have a taste for beer!


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