"Have they had their tongues cut out?" Brewer hits back at report claiming Budvar, Heineken and Stella Artois taste the same

15 August, 2014

Czech brewer Budvar has hit back at a report claiming drinkers cannot taste the difference between Stella Artois, Heineken and its eponymous beer, writing it off as a prank from a notorious troublemaker.

The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Independent and other national titles carried a story yesterday based on the report, which claimed the three lagers were indistinguishable.

“They cannot distinguish between three major competing beer brands,” the report said.

“Our results suggest that brand loyalty in this market is likely to be driven largely by marketing and packaging, and not by the underlying sensory properties of the competing products."

But the basis for the report was a survey of a mere 138 Swedish volunteers given a blind-taste test by a team of researchers led by a man called Robin Goldstein.

Budvar urged the trade and consumers not to read too much into the report. The brewer first questioned whether those polled had “had their tongues cut out”, and then dismissed the report as a “bit of fun” designed to cause mischief by Goldstein.

Budvar moved to remind the trade that Goldstein “pulled a similar stroke with the wine industry” in 2008, using a blind-taste survey of 500 subjects to suggest consumers prefer cheap plonk to expensive wine, and said the wine trade has suffered no adverse effects.

Here Budvar’s marketing controller delivers a colourful rebuttal to the report:

“I wouldn’t say that lagers brewers were exactly shaken by the Daily Mail’s publication of a bit of Swedish research that demonstrated, so the authors said, that lager drinkers find it difficult to taste the difference between big name beer brands when blind tasting, but it think it fair to say it did send a bit of a frisson through us. The implication being of course that they all taste the same. I was particularly riveted by the piece because the three lagers chosen for this test were Stella, Heineken and my own Budvar.

My first reaction was to be enraged- how could anybody fail to distinguish craft brewed lager from these two big international euro-fizz brands unless they have been deprived of taste-buds and their tongues cut out? Then I looked at the origin of the research again. The tastings it seemed were carried out by Johan Almenberg and his wife Anna Dreber, both of the Stockholm School of Economics and the critical third man, Robin Goldstein.

It was seeing the Goldstein name that made me sigh with relief. Anybody who knows anything about the international food or drinks business knows that when you see the Goldstein name there’s going to be some fun, that is so long as it’s not your business his winding up. I remembered it was Goldstein who pulled a similar stroke with the wine industry. In May 2008 he revealed the results of an experiment that he conducted in which 500 subjects in a blind taste test preferred cheaper wine to more expensive stuff. This became the basis of an Academic paper “Do more expensive wines taste better?” followed by a book entitled The Wine Trials. He followed this up in August of that year. When addressing the American Association of Wine Economists in Portland, Oregon he revealed he had won an award of excellence from the big US wine and lifestyle mag , the Wine Spectator for a completely imaginary restaurant. He called it the Osteria L’Intrepido and created a fake website for the place and a wine list of low-rated Italian wines. Needless to say neither of these events seem to have laid low the wine business, the restaurant business or the Wine Spectator. Indeed I think they gave a lot of entertainment and maybe gave us all something to think about.

I personally think Goldstein, although clearly a man with a serious mission, is good fun. He is just the kind of guy we need around to stop us getting too much up our corporate backsides and good luck to him and I am looking forward to reading his latest book “A defense of fast food and cheap beer”

Of course  it goes without saying he is completely wrong on this lager issue- just ask the PMA’s beer experts Roger Protz and Peter Brown, plus all the people who attended this week’s GBBF.”

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