Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Beer Tasting Challenge

So last Thursday was a busy day for us and it finished with our Beer Tasting Challenge. Some 30 guests blind-tasted five beers, judged them and told us what they liked best. The results were not as expected!

I previously blogged that George and I visited the local hostelries to ascertain what beers sold best. The top four beers favoured in Berkhamsted are (with no great surprise): Fullers London Pride, GreeneKing IPA, Sharp’s Doom Bar and Tring’s Side Pocket for a Toad. We purchased polypins of these beers along with one of Chiltern’s Beechwood Bitter. We then got our beery guinea pigs to try the beers without being told what they are. We had a few stray women in the audience, and I have separated out their views for now.

In terms of the rating of overall likeness, Beechwood Bitter was rated the highest followed by Doom Bar but, surprisingly, Side Pocket was rated the lowest. Looking at the results from the point of view of ranking the beers, then Beechwood Bitter came out top followed by London Pride. The beer considered the most drinkable beer that our guests would be most likely to drink over an evening in a pub, was Doom Bar. However, the beer they would order then and there in a pub was Beechwood Bitter.

The ladies in our group were more favourable towards Doom Bar, whereas the eight investors in our microbrewery favoured the Beechwood Bitter and London Pride. Looking at the rating of the beer’s characteristics, the colour, taste and body of Side Pocket was lower than the others, whereas the smell of London Pride let it down.

From our results it appears that quite a few people prefer the blander (or more neutral) nose and flavours of Doom Bar and the girls particularly disliked the hoppier beers. Nevertheless, Chiltern have done something right with Beechwood Bitter and seem to have won over the regular London Pride drinkers in our blind tasting. That Beechwood Bitter is brewed locally only added to the popularity of this ale amongst our tasters and I’m sure many will seek it out in future – I recommend the Alford Arms and Valiant Trooper.

Tring’s Side Pocket came across as too bitter, hoppy and fragrant for our audience in a blind taste, perhaps because we pitched it against sweeter beers. The regular drinkers of this local ale amongst our tasters were very surprised by their own negative appraisal. Despite the results, Side Pocket is a quality session beer and a favourite with the locals; they like the locality of the brewery and what it stands for (some even like the rebranding). Personally I prefer and recommend the slightly heavier Ridgeway.

We also asked our audience to evaluate a number of beer pump clips and labels, see below. Our results show that Spitfire (T), Bath Ales Wild Hare (O) and Doom Bar (I) are the most favoured – simple with bold colours and clear text. The three top dislikes were Trooper (K) as poor taste, Saison Partizan (E) as too complex and Parson’s Pledge (W) as just dreadful. What do you think?


  1. Spitfire has always been one of my favourites, not least because i consumed two pints once before playing golf and shot my lowest ever score. Good luck with the venture Nigel!

  2. Are you interested in or have you considered the craft beer thing that is a bit trendy right now? Personally as a soft southern limp wristed lager drinker, I find all these Doom Bar style ales rather unpalatable. However what does float my boat is a nice American pale ale like Sierra Nevada, or even Boston Lager or Sam Adams. They tend to be strong, hoppy and full of flavour. They work for the lager drinker as they are consumed cold, or tend to be. I have no idea how easy or difficult they are to create. If that's a bit left field, have a look at what Marlow Brewery do with their Rebellion stuff. They have a nice strong IPA or two.

  3. Nick, the new world craft beers, such as the hoppy American pale ales, are indeed a new trend in beer. I'm a real fan of Brewdog who produce ales with multiple hops and malts which create complex unique ales, which they serve chilled from keg. As newbie brewers we will need to develop our staple session beer first, then we can start experimenting with new world beers.

  4. An interesting test with results that do not surprise us. Of the beers tested, Tring Brewery's Side Pocket is completely different in style to the other offerings, something that was highlighted. A comparison with Ridgeway would have been far more appropriate.

    Without all the relevant details on how the product was stored, served etc, it it is hard for us to comment on why regular drinkers found Side Pocket to be too bitter. Possibly, sensory perceptions, which are always influenced by factors such as environment, mood, other food and drink consumed, all come into play during taste tests. It is for this reason that they are often repeated at different times of the day and often in the environment where the product is to be consumed.

    As for the rebranding, whilst your observation suggests that "some even like the rebranding", our sales, increased market share and general feedback would suggest that it has been more successful than implied. As I am sure you will know doubt be aware, change is a hard thing to manage and meeting the preferences and expectations of our valued customers, moreso.

    I have also noticed that on your display of sample pump clips, you used old Tring Brewery designs, not the new ones. We are happy to send you new artwork if required.

    Interestingly, where your audience felt that the Trooper branding was in poor taste, the collaboration between Robinsons Brewery and UK rock legends Iron Maiden has lead to a product whose sales hit 1 million pints in the first eight weeks of production. I guess this highlights the problems with market research and the need to obtain feedback from as large and diverse sample as possible.

    We wish you every luck with the brewery and would also like to extend our congratulations to Chiltern Brewery and their Beechwood Bitter for winning the day.

  5. Ben thanks for your comments and advice, much appreciated. In hindsight perhaps we should have pitchched the Ridegway rather than the Side Pocket (I like both depending on mood, time of day, season etc). But the Side Pocket is more popular in our local pubs, and we also had IPA in our line up, so it made sense at the time to use it. We went to great lengths to ensure all beer was of similar tempertaure and condition, and the beer was accompanied by crackers only. I'm confident our little experiment won't put any of us off drinking Side Pocket in the future

    The new Tring branding is certainly eye catching and stands out from the norm - as you say change takes a while. We have yet to face the challenge of pump clip design. Interesting point about Trooper - its probbaly more MOR than metal in Berko and cetrainly is for our sample of 40-60 years old tasters.

    The tasting was our first effort at market research using our potential customers. It was a small, but statistically robust, sample but we clearly have a lot more to do.