Using a holiday as an excuse for a blog post, I conducted a double blind study to determine which of two dry Irish stouts served in “widgetized” cans I preferred.
Sunday was Saint Patrick’s Day. As the name “Conley” might imply, I’m part Irish. As the name “Conley” also implies, I’m a heavily Anglicized sort of Irish, and besides have much more Scottish blood than Irish in me, so I don’t particularly find any thrill in this specific culturally appropriated excuse to binge drink (at least Dyngus Day gives us a video of Anderson Cooper giggling uncontrollably). I usually wear orange and go to Brennan’s to see if anyone will try to fight me.
Oh right, this is about beer.
I decided to do a follow-up study of last years’ unpublished trial, Which Dry Irish Stout Do You Dislike the Least? The truth is, I really do dislike the style as a whole. Irish whiskey? Sure (though I’ll take Scotch over it any day; see above). Irish reds? Yeah, I’m on board. Dry stouts? I have to struggle to taste something, anything, and frankly the zeal with which people tell me they’re “like a meal” or are “so thick” puts me at risk for a repetitive strain injury in my eyes after they keep rolling.
But it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, and I usually use that as an excuse to reaffirm my opinions on the matter, so I thought hey: once more unto the breach.
Review of the literature
I did this experiment once last year. I suppose I can’t have been the first but I’m too lazy to look up other trials. I’m tenured at CBW so I don’t really have to give more than half an ass to my methodology.
Last year I got three stouts: Guinness, Murphy’s and O’Hara’s. O’Hara’s was in a standard bottle and not in a can with a nitrogen widget so it was readily apparent which of the three it was. Beamish was intended to be included, but in the trip to a single store it was unavailable.
In the blind study, I believed to have identified which was Guinness and reluctantly selected it as my favorite of the two. My selection was actually revealed to have been Murphy’s, saving my beer geek cred (in my own eyes, at least).
Two beers were selected, Guinness and Murphys. The inclusion of O’Hara’s last year was comparing apples to oranges (the original title of Apples to Apples, by the way), so in the interest of cost it was omitted from the study this year. Once again my rigorous attempts to find Beamish (going to Wegmans once on Friday) were fruitless. I considered heading to Sterling Place, knowing in the past they have had Beamish on tap, but as that would have necessitated leaving my family and friends I declined.
My sister in law was tasked with the labeling and pouring of the beer. Index cards were folded in half and cut, then labeled A or B and taped to both the can and tasting glass. (Yes, technically this was only single blind, as my sister in law knew which can was which. But then she forgot which was which almost immediately, so I’m hoping it will hold up to peer review).
Two subjects were used: myself and a friend named Paul. The trials were conducted separately, as I wanted to start drinking before he showed up. In the second trial I assumed the role of facilitator. The glasses were rinsed in between to minimize the presence of cooties.
Findings and results
It settled faster in the glass, leading me to believe it was not a completely blind tasting. It had a mildly roasty aroma, with the same for the flavor: mild roast, kinda some dark malts, not much else. I’m reminded why I think this style is boring. The widget makes it essentially flat, not really creamy.
Paul: “This tastes like water. A is definitely weaker.”
Barely any aroma. Again, roast (because what else is in this style?), but hidden. Much fuller mouthfeel, which is good, but not as much flavor. A bit of a sour tang? (adding to my confirmation that this beer, which took longer to settle and had less flavor, was Guinness).
Honestly, there’s not much to go on with either. The body of B is helping endear itself to me quite a lot: if there’s going to be little flavor, let’s at least have good mouthfeel.
Paul: “B tastes better to me. A tastes like dark and foamy water.”
I decided A is Murphy’s, B Guinness. Despite that, I decided I liked B better for the mouthfeel. Paul also chose B.
To my surprise, A was Guinness.
This fully replicated my findings from last year: I thought I had deduced which beer was which and begrudgingly chose what I thought was Guinness only to be proven wrong. The blind test methodology was clearly a good choice, as I was able to detect more flavor and aroma from Guinness than Murphy’s, the opposite of my hypothesis.
Confirmation bias immediately came into play after the results: the beer I had discovered was Murphy’s quickly had more roast character once I knew it wasn’t Guinness. I am somewhat dismayed at the unreliability of my own senses.
No further study is needed or intended. Next year I believe I will only buy and drink beer I will like.