Friday, 6 March 2009

Love Lager - But is Love Blind?

When my friend and one-time drinking companion, TheBeerNut, announced this month's Session topic, I thought "excellent!". Living in Germany with so many wonderful lagers I reckoned on pulling out a couple of my favourite dark lagerbiers and waxing lyrical about them. I can't understand the comments from some quarters about "lager drinkers", suggesting that they are all knuckle-scrapers. We must of course assume the context here is mass-produced mega-brewery lager, but please, don't disparage a great brewing tradition by inferring it's generally inferior, or even "unreal". There's good beer, and bad beer, and you can't just draw battle lines around "styles", dispense, ingredients, by-products or anything. Taste and ye shall find. But I digress.

As it happens, these mass-produced, ubiquitous lagers seem to be exactly the types of beers Mr. BeerNut wanted people to talk about in this month's session. "Nothing fancy" he said to my comment. He wanted the lowest common denominator beers. The pints (half litres) of plain. The everyday Johannes Seife beers. I didn't feel up to doing this important work alone, so I enlisted the help of my colleagues, many of whom could be classed as every-day, common-or-garden Pils drinkers.

I started by doing a small survey to get an idea of what brands were generally popular amongst my colleagues. Out of 36 responses, 23 stated that Pilsners would be their favourite type of beer. The top five (with the number of "votes" in parenthesis) were as follows:
  • Becks (5)
  • Krombacher (3)
  • Bitburger (2)
  • Veltins (2)
  • Jever (2)
I probably could have guessed that these would be the most popular in the office, but I was actually surprised that there were so few votes for them. Other pilsners that were mentioned included Pinkus, Iserlohner, Detmolder, Hachenburger and Stachopramen amongst others. The rest of the preferences were interesting, but that's for a longer term project.

I then got nine volunteers for a blind tasting,where each person would be unaware of what beers were on trial. They would simply have to provide a preference order.

Armed with the list of the top 5 from the survey group, I duly bought a selection of Becks, Jever, Krombacher and Bitburger, along with a few bottles of Schwelmer Pils as a side-test. I've had Schwelmer in the past, and to be honest I didn't think much of it, but according to ratebeer, it's number 21 in the list of Classic German Pilseners. Shows what I know! I also found it a little worrying that there are so few actual German beers represented there, but that could also be a "style" thing. Oh, and before you ask, I couldn't get the higher rated ones at short notice. Organised? Me?

Getting the beers back to the office under great secrecy, the glasses were poured in a separate room and all wheeled in to the volunteers. Each person was given five glasses, labelled A to E, and a sheet on which to write notes (optional!) and, more importantly, boxes in which to write their order of preference.

The final tally of results came out as shown in the table below.

What was really interesting was, of course, that Schwelmer came out on top, with a clear swing between those who had it in first and second choice, and the two people who thought it was "muffig"; musty or stale. Also surprising, to me at least, was that Becks did fairly well, and I suppose it was heartening that of the people who stated that Becks was their favourite before the test, one chose Becks as his number 1 in the blind tasting, while another colleague had it as her second choice. Of course there were upsets such as my pal, who said Jever was his favourite pils if he had to drink pils (he's really a Landbier man) giving Jever a number 4 in his preferences. Of course the post-test argument there was that it tastes better from the tap, but that's a familiar sound to my ears!

The final order of preference, simply calculated on the number of each preference rating, is as follows. with 1 being the highest preference and 5 being the lowest.
  • Schwelmer Pils (2.2)
  • Becks (2.6)
  • Bitburger Premium Pils (3.0)
  • Krombacher Pils (3.2)
  • Jever Pils (3.8)
And the lesson learned? Well, broadly speaking, in this small group at least, the order of preference generally followed what people stated in my straw poll, so it looks like people do love the lagers they say they do, and it's because of the taste. However, and most importantly, given a chance to meet a new face, even in a speed-dating setup like this, they just may well find a new love in their lives. I shall be introducing new beer faces into the office on a more regular basis I think...

Special thanks to Albert, Andreas, Antje, Christian, Ingo, Marco, Marko, Markus and Richard (an Englishman who probably misses a good bitter) for volunteering!


Mark Dredge said...

I wish I could hold beer tastings in the office! Interesting results and a good spin on the Session.

Did you put in a vote as well? Which comes top in your opinion?

Barry M said...

The Germans are pretty open to beer anywhere, any time it seems. We've had a few tasting sessions of my homebrewed beer, which were entertaining. :)

In the interests of science I couldn't participate, of course. Well, I did, but not in the voting. The Schwelmer tasted better to me this time compared to when I first tasted it. Either it was bad timing then, or it just tasted better than the ther stuff on offer. The Krombacher was also fairly easy drinking, but then I've had a soft spot for Krombacher as a BBQ beer :)

Anonymous said...

I also think Schwelmer is a fine beer, but I'd be interested to see what I thought in a blind test, with it stacked up against some other less common German pilsners. Bitburger has gained respect in some circles I run with, but from my experience, there's not much to get excited about there.

Great social beer experiment idea for the Session, Barry!

Barry M said...

Thanks :)

Some colleagues who couldn't make it have been asking when I'm doing the next one. Next time I think I'll have to shock them with beers they've never had

Leigh said...

interesting post, liked the approach, and very different, too. I'm quite a fan of Jever actually - I can get it on draught here at North in Leeds and when poured, that insane hoppy, skunky aroma really elevates it above the norm...that's just me, though!

Barry M said...

Thanks Leigh. I have liked Jever in the past, but for some reason it didn't go well with the other beers in this session. In fact it tasted a bit like bile!

I have a few bottles of the Jever Dark in the cellar (my wife picked one out and the neighbours gave me two bottles the other day) and that's more up my street :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow. I love blind taste tests. This is a corker. I also like that you're getting Germans thinking about their beer. Good to know the German word for skunked, too, if that's an appropriate translation.

Barry M said...

Thanks Bailey. I plan on doing more tastings, some blind, some not, and getting my colleagues to think more. I feel a rauchbier tasting coming on, probably not blind, or maybe another pils one, blind, but with none of the major brands. Just for kicks ;)

Muffig is more stale, musty or moldy, so I'm not sure he meant the same as skunked, which would be more like, well, skunk :D I've never smelled a really skunked beer, so I'm not sure exactly what the smell of 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol is like. Besides, the Schwelmer was in a brown bottle, so it's less likely to get skunked than, say, Jever in its green glass wrapping and even more isohumulones to get skunky :D

Iamreddave said...

Great idea on the voting on the beers. rather then just a name that beer. Its good that you had a supply of 5 possible beers. what other styles give this many options?