So if you’re looking at my Twitter or Untappd feed and wondering if I’ve been replaced by aliens, or lost a bet, or something, I assure you there’s a more reasonable explanation. No, instead we decided we should do a taste test of all the crap lager we could find at convenience stores. For example, if I’m stuck at a party/restaurant/bar/whatever and they’ve only got Bud Light and Corona, which should I pick? Probably neither, but if I really want a beer to go with those tacos, would it make any discernible difference which one I chose? Inquiring minds want to know.
I know that brand perceptions and other biases play a big factor, so I knew that a regular tasting wouldn’t cut it. So we decided to do a double-blind taste test so neither of us would know which beer was which when we were tasting them.
I started with a list of the top 20 best-selling beers (sorry, it’s a slideshow, but that’s the list I used). Then I went to a couple of local convenience stores to see which ones I could actually find in single cans (I cheated a little and bought a 4-pack of PBR because of the hipster factor). And for good measure, I included Cigar City’s Hotter Than Helles as a “control” beer that I have actually drunk on purpose, and found decent. So I wound up with all of the top 6 beers, plus a smattering of other top 20 beers — I’ve added their sales ranking and brewery ownership:
- Bud Light (#1, AB-InBev)
- Coors Light (#2, MillerCoors)
- Budweiser (#3, AB-InBev)
- Miller Lite (#4, MillerCoors)
- Natural Light (#5, AB-InBev)
- Corona Extra (#6, AB-InBev/Constellation)
- Heineken (#10, Heineken)
- Miller High Life (#11, MillerCoors)
- Natural Ice (#14, AB-InBev)
- Pabst Blue Ribbon (#17, Pabst)
- Cigar City Hotter Than Helles (unranked, Cigar City)
Price is not a big factor for me when I choose my beer. But I found it interesting to see the price differentiation. The beer cost about $28 total. At the high end, a 6-pack of Hotter Than Helles cost $11 ($1.83/can), the singles cost $13.50 ($1.50/can most of them were $1.19/can, and a few were $2/can because they were 24 oz.), and a 4-pack of PBR cost $3.60 (90¢/can). And the Hotter Than Helles cans were 12 oz., as opposed to the 16-24 oz. cans at the convenience stores. The PBR would probably be closer to the other singles if it wasn’t in a multi-pack.
I had two main goals for the tasting process: taste a lot of beers to get a broad sample, and avoid knowing which ones were which. I also wanted Wind and I to be tasting the same beers at the same time, so we could discuss them as we went. So we came up with this process:
- We rounded up all the taster and juice glasses in the house. We had 11 beers, so we had to dig into the high cabinets to get 22 small glasses.
- Wind left the room while I gave each beer a number (the slips of paper in the photo above), poured two glasses, and wrote down the beer-to-number mapping.
- I left the room and Wind replaced the numbers with randomized letters, wrote down the number-to-letter mapping, and rearranged the beers in order by their letter.
- We tasted the beers and rated/ranked them.
- We then consulted our mappings to figure out which beer was which.
The first thing we noticed was the color, or rather lack thereof. Looking at the table full of tasting glasses, the color differences were minimal, and mostly attributable to the glasses or lighting. So we’re definitely talking about pale yellow fizzy stuff.
The second thing we noticed was that there were actually differences between the beers. Some had a very pronounced lager twang, but others didn’t. Some of them had a little aroma, but others had absolutely none. Some had honey-like sweetness or even a touch of maltiness, while others had basically no taste at all. Some were very highly-carbonated or astringent like wheat, while others were smooth and clean.
By the time we were half-way through, it was obvious we were not going to agree on ranking the beers. In particular, I rather liked the beer that wound up being PBR and found Bud Light to be middling, but Wind hated both of them.
That said, we were in complete agreement that Heineken was clearly the worst (which is pretty amusing since back in the days when we didn’t particularly like beer, Heineken was the main beer we did drink). We also agreed on most of the bottom tier, too: Natural Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light.
We also mostly agreed on the top of our rankings: 4 of our top 5 were the same, though in different orders: Corona, Budweiser, Hotter Than Helles, and, surprisingly, Natural Ice. It was somewhat reassuring that we both included Hotter Than Helles in our favorites, though it’s worth noting that neither of us could pick it out of the lineup, and neither of us ranked it higher than third place. This definitely confirmed my suspicion that a blind tasting was needed here.