May 24, 2018

Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 3, No. 20
Take the test: Does the label matter?

March 6, 2003

The thought has occurred to us that it would be fun, though impossible, to try the Battle of the Beers as a blind tasting. Would Victory's HopDevil IPA get two-thirds of the votes (as it did Tuesday) in a blind-taste test with Lagunitas IPA? More? Less?


We recently came across a study conducted in 1962 by the Institute for Design Analysis in San Francisco, aimed to identify the importance of both brand names and labels. The test involving 96 drinkers and eight brands of lager showed that those drinkers:

- Could not distinguish between brands.

- Changed their evaluation once a brand is identified.

- Reacted differently when the brand name was only exposed than when the actual label was exposed.

For instance, brand B "was considered a light-tasting beer until its brand name became known. Then it was classed as overwhelmingly heavy-tasting." Its flavor became what the consumers thought it should be. Brand B's alcohol strength, first rated as weak, became strong.

In another test, "brand B was consistently rated first when the brand name only was given, and also when the actual label was shown. But brand H, in eighth place when the consumers knew it only by the printed overlap, moved into fourth place when its label was shown."

Granted this was 1962, when the number of beer choices in the United States was shrinking, and we are talking about eight lagers. But while we pat ourselves on the back for putting flavor first when making our own beer selections, perhaps it wouldn't hurt to try a little test.

Match one of your favorite beers up with another beer of the same style in a blind-taste test. The results might surprise you.

This is not to say that you shouldn't be loyal to particular breweries. You might drink New Glarus Brewing beers not only because they are world class, but because you admire the integrity of owners Deborah and Dan Carey. You might have a growler of your local brewpub's beer in the fridge even though the beer store has "better" micros at a good price because you love the pub and would like to see it stay in business.

We are reminded of story Broad Ripple Brewing (Indianapolis) owner John Hill likes to tell about when he was growing up in Yorkshire, England, and would visit pubs with his father. While it may have appeared to an outsider that neighboring pubs were serving the same beer, the locals knew better. "One cellarman might be adding a little brown sugar, another kept his beer a little fresher . . .." Hill said.

So John's father had his favorite pubs, but if one of them was nearly empty while the place across the street was busy, he would head to the less-favored one. Why? Because, as Hill says, "an Englishman doesn't drink alone."

You've probably seen the television commercial where a well-known brand boasts "It's all about the beer." Generally, that seems like a good philosophy, but sometimes we choose a beer based on considerations other than flavor.

Thinking about that, we're just as happy the Battle of the Beers can't be a blind-taste test.

New on the shelves

Widmer Brothers in Portland, Ore., releases an intriguing sounding beer next week. Drop Top Amber Ale may be officially classified an American Amber Ale, but it borrows flavor elements from many different beer styles, including brown ales, maerzens and cream stouts. "The goal for this beer was not to fit into a defined category, but rather to make the best tasting beer possible," said Kurt Widmer.

Drop Top is brewed with three unique ingredients: Simcoe hops, honey malt and a touch of milk sugar. Simcoe hops - a proprietary variety - provide pronounced citrus flavors with little lingering bitterness. The honey malt and milk sugar provide a rich, silky smooth flavor with a subtly sweet finish. All ingredients combine to deliver complexity and flavor without a trace of harshness.

"Drop Top is all about simple pleasures - riding in a convertible, wind in your hair, kicking back, taking it easy," said Widmer. "Drop Top is all about enjoying the moment."

Tasting notes

Brewed by Bear Republic Brewing in California
Michael Jackson writes:
Peachy bronze color. Faintly yeasty iridescence. Dense head, with good lace. Aroma of barley sugar and (very distinct) Seville orange skins. Bigger body, and more malt background that most American pale ales, but don't be deceived by that brief greeting of smooth sweetness. That is almost immediately enveloped by (again very emphatic) perfumy (hay, straw, lemons, limes), slightly soapy, flavor. The oiliness of hops? In the end an assertively hoppy beer. Very robust all around. A bear-hug.

Read more from Jackson at

Brewed in Portland, Oregon
Roger Protz writes: The label not only bears the billy goat symbol for bock beer but also tells that the beer is 7.2% abv, more useful than warnings from the Surgeon General. The beer is a pale bronze color, good foam and lace work, an enticing aroma of bitter almonds, and a gentle flowery and perfumy hop note. This is a good burst of hops on the tongue with rich, slightly toasted malt and bitter orange fruit. The finish, big and long, starts bitter and just gets more bitter until the hops are almost quinine-like at the back of the tongue. There is a fascinating lingering fruitiness, perhaps a dash of tangerine or damson.

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