Friday, March 11, 2011

A Study on Beer Taste? Sign Me Up!

I saw this item from the Journal of Food Science posted by a friend on Facebook.
This study aimed to test the much-pronounced but poorly supported theory that “Guinness does not travel well.” A total of 4 researchers from 4 different countries of origin traveled around the world for 12 mo to collect data on the enjoyment of Guinness and related factors. The main outcome was measured on a Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) from 0 (enjoyed it not at all) to 100 (enjoyed it very much). A total of 103 tastings were recorded (42 in Ireland, 61 elsewhere) in 71 different pubs spread over 33 cities and 14 countries. The enjoyment of Guinness consumed in Ireland was rated higher (74 mm VAS) than outside Ireland (57 mm; P < 0.001). This difference remained statistically significant after adjusting for researcher, pub ambience, Guinness appearance, and the sensory measures mouthfeel, flavor, and aftertaste. This study is the first to provide scientific evidence that Guinness does not travel well and that the enjoyment of Guinness (for our group of nonexpert tasters) was higher when in Ireland. Results, however, are subject to further verification because of limitations in the study design.
This is a pretty fun bit of research though, as the authors point out, very limited. For example, there is no reporting on a "control" beer to see if their findings are Guinness specific. Strangely, the authors attempted to adjust for pub ambience (which was ranked higher in pubs in Ireland) but seemed to ignore the fact that while in Ireland they consumed more alcohol before testing than in other countries (2.5 versus 1.4, P = 0.035), a factor that can undoubtedly affect perception and overall enjoyment. The authors point out the fact that Guinness is brewed in nearly 50 countries around the world, so the question "Does Guinness travel well?" may not be appropriate. And of course expectations and blinding issues run rampant in a study like this. Clearly the authors should recruit my beer-drinking expertise the next time they embark on this type of research.

Other items of note: The price of a pint of Guinness was not significantly different in Ireland compared to the other countries visited (£3.66 versus £3.83) and none of the pints served in Ireland had the head stamped with a shamrock or other design, compared to 13.1% of non-Irish pours (P = 0.015)

I have to say that while journals often do publish short "fun" pieces, I was a bit surprised to see this study appear in a peer-reviewed journal instead of a blog post. I just hope the editors are as kind when I submit my upcoming study of the best local beers here in Ottawa.