As some of you may know, I was recently elected the 2017 President of my local homebrew club here in Fort Worth, The Cap and Hare. While it can be a thankless and time consuming job, I really look forward to the challenge of planning meetings every month and coming up with programs that will inspire experimentation. As well as learning and sharing new brewing techniques. And that is what this blog is about. One of the tools that I plan to use in 2017 is the triangle testing procedure. A widely used tool in brewing.
Maybe you are asking yourself, what is triangle testing? It is a very simple testing procedure where people are given 3 different samples of food or drink. In our case it’s homebrew and commercial beer. And they have no clue what they are getting. In fact, the test taker is not given any information on the samples. They are given dark cups to disguise the color, so there is no preconceived notions of what the beer may be or what idea we may be testing. The idea is to give 3 samples to each tester and for the tester to identify the single sample out of the 3 that is the different sample. This is a controlled way to see if people can actually taste or identify different flavors and aromas. Or if one method of brewing may produce a detectable difference over another. One of the reasons that I find this procedure so fascinating is at the end of the day people will drink what they think tastes the best regardless of style, brewery, or ABV%.
With these guidelines in mind, our first test was aimed at giving the club an idea of what the triangle testing procedure is all about. So, we decided to do two different tests with commercial beer. The first test that we used was to see if people could identify the difference between Bud Light and Coors Light. Beers that plenty of homebrewers and Texans are familiar with.
I asked questions and made the testers think about more than which one was different. For example, I asked if there were any detectable flaws, which sample they preferred, and why they preferred that sample. Those questions immediately taught me something about the testing. I found out that by asking the question if there were any flaws, that people immediately started to look for flaws. So, remember during testing that you may be able to sway peoples notions simply with the questions that you ask. Based on the grumblings I heard, I would guess that to most of the people that have had some beer judging experience, it really frustrated them to not know what the style samples were.
So what were the results? It was quite interesting. With around 30 people participating 50% of the people where able to identify the Coors Light where the other samples were Bud Light. The the rest of the votes were almost evenly split between the other 2 samples. So, 50% of the crowd could not identify the difference between Bud Light and Coors Light. These are not your average Big Beer Company beer drinkers since most of these guys have BJCP training. Which makes me think another question to ask is which of the test takers have a BJCP Rank so you can see how they fare against someone that has no BJCP training. However, since most of the people were able to identify the sample I would conclude that there is a perceivable difference between Coors Light and Bud Light. As far as the question answers go, people generally could not detect a difference and just chose a sample. For the next go around, we may test this last result by using a control group of testers where all 3 beers are the same sample. As far as comments, there were references to detectable flaws like DMS and Acetaldehyde. Plus, a few great comments such as "Beer best garnished with a ping pong ball".
Either way, If you have friends that like Bud Light or Coors Light and you want to brew up a good ale version of a similar beer to use for this test without all the fuss, then try our Cool, TX Cream Ale kit. It’d be a good beer for the test and it’s definitely a great gateway beer for your BMC friends. Plus, it’s our number one selling kit!
For the next triangle test, I chose one of my long time favorite beers. A beer I’ve loved for years is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which was also the inspiration for our Palo Pinto Pale Ale kit. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is described as a classic example of the American Pale Ale style, using a clean American Ale yeast with Magnum, Perle, and Cascade hops. Plus, it’s one of the few commercial beers that is bottle conditioned in much the same way a homebrew is bottle conditioned. So, if you want to try it at home, try the Palo Pinto Pale Ale and tell us what you think.
So, with years of experience with Sierra Nevada in the bottle, I had a preconceived notion that there would be a definite flavor difference between the bottle and the canned version. Much less the draft version. So, I had to test this theory. We gave each tester two samples of the canned pale ale and one sample of the bottled version and much to my amazement, the results gave no definitive results. Between all the testers, the three samples were almost evenly split, while most complained that they could not tell any difference at all. According to our sample group there was no detectable difference between the bottle and the can.
This was just our first try at using triangle testing in our meetings. I went in wondering if there would be a flavor difference or aroma difference when drinking from a bottle or a can and if we could test our theories about it. But, we didn't really find any conclusive evidence about which package was different. However, I still think the Sierra Nevada tastes better from a bottle, haha!
In our next meetings, we plan to have some interesting tests that will be more about brewing ingredients. I have and plan to continue brewing different samples to continue our triangle testing practice, so stay tuned to get some hopefully interesting insight into people palates through further blind taste testing.
Stay tuned for more fun!