Danny O. contemplating the five beers
A few weeks ago, on a warm summer-like night, I assembled a group of friends - glutenous beer drinkers, all of them - for a blind beer tasting. (Note: Please don't confuse this beer tasting with the upcoming gluten-free blind beer tasting!) My motives were two-fold: on the one hand, the tasting was part of research for a new book I'm working on, and on the other hand, I selfishly wanted to see how my home brewed Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit stacked up against competition in a blind tasting. The results were partly predictable, partly surprising, and overall intriguing. But before I get to the results, the methodology:
The Beer Drinkers
All four of my beer tasters were self-described "enthusiastic beer drinkers," but not necessarily beer experts. Importantly, they were all gluten eaters, and hence, conventional beer drinkers.
I pulled together a sampling of five beers for the tasting. Three were conventional beers, and two were gluten-free beers, including my home brew. They were:
Blue Moon's Belgian White Grand Cru
New Belgium's Mothership Wit
Avery's White Rascal
Green's Discovery (GF)
Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit (GF)
With the exception of Green's, which was the closest GF beer I could find, they were all beers brewed in the Belgian Wit style; yeasty and cloudy; with orange peel and coriander.
The beer tasters received the following information: They would be tasting a sampling of five different beers, all brewed in the same style. However, they did not know what the style would be. Similarly, they knew they would be tasting a combination of conventional and gluten-free beers, but they didn't know how many conventional and how many GF beers were included in the sampling. The beers were poured into clear plastic cups labeled A through E (the GF beers were B and D).
The rules were simple: 1) They may taste the beers in any order they like. 2) They may return to a beer and re-taste it at any time, and as many times as they like.
Each taster was provided with a sheet for recording tasting notes. For each beer, they were also asked to make a decision: What it a gluten-free beer? Yes or no. Lastly, they were asked to rank the five beers in order of preference, from most favorite (1) to least favorite (5).
Most tasters opted to cycle through the beers from lightest to darkest. When all the beer was consumed, and their pencils were put down, we discussed and tabulated the results. But first, I asked which beer they thought was the home brew. Only one person correctly guessed my Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit. One taster thought the home brew was Green's, and two thought it was Blue Moon's Grand Cru.
In general, most tasters correctly picked out the gluten-free beers from the conventional beers, and on the scale of most favorite to least favorite, conventional beers usually beat out the gluten-free beers for taste. There were some surprises, though.
3 out of the 4 tasters thought Blue Moon was a gluten-free beer. (It's actually brewed with a combination of barley and wheat.) One person thought Green's was a conventional beer, and another thought the same of my Zonder Gluten.
As for how my ZG rated against the others for taste... While one taster rated it a 2 (making it her second favorite of the five), the other three tasters were in solid agreement. They gave it a five. It was their least favorite, by far. Sigh.
Although I'm tempted to draw grand, sweeping conclusions and put a nice little bow on the package that was the blind beer tasting, I'm not going to. I'll simply leave you with those results, for you to ponder and from which to draw your own conclusions. But I will say this: I'm very excited for the upcoming all-gluten-free blind beer tasting. I can only guess that it will be quite illuminating.