Can You Tell The Difference Between Light Beers?

Determined to find the answer, I assembled a panel of seasoned drinkers and presented them with an array of light and nearly light beers. The beers of the day were everything my local Seven Eleven had in stock: Miller Lite, Miller High Life, Bud Light, Budweiser (referred to hereafter as Bud Heavy), PBR, Coors Banquet Beer (Coors Heavy), Busch (Heavy, not light. I didn’t even know until today that they made heavy anymore). I wish more beers could have been included, but this was everything I could carry. Hopefully next time, local favorites like Rainier will make an appearance. 

Here’s what we needed to know: how did these beers rank up when tasted blind and can you guess which ones are which. Or, more importantly, can you guess which one of these is your favorite. Panel members recorded their favorite and least favorite beers before tasting samples sequentially and recording what they thought each beer might be, searching specifically for their favorites. Meanwhile, they recorded tasting notes on the beer. Before conducting this study, our hypothesis was that while all these beers do generally taste quite similar, people would be able to tell which one was the one they were most familiar with. Telling the difference between these beers may be difficult, but with practice and keen observation, it should be possible to differentiate them. Therefore, these panelists with their abundant light beer drinking experience, but lack of specific practice, should do at least slightly better than random chance. 

  • Coors Heavy - one panelist said this was her favorite.
  • Bud Light - two favorites.
  • PBR - all four remaining panelists listed this as their favorite. Let’s see how this shakes out.
  • Busch, Miller Lite, Miller High Life, Bud Heavy - no favorites, no one likes these. 

Beer 1.
Described as a cool summers day after a frat party, smells like dishwasher, tastes like backwash with a hint of bubblegum, slightly sweet and no bitterness. Tastes like America and ponies. It was correctly identified by 2/7 panelists as Bud Light. Of the two that stated Bud light was their favorite, one was correct and the other mistook this as Bud Heavy.

Beer 2.
Described as slightly “wheaty,” a dandelion delight, drinkable, and as George Washington doing battle against the Redcoats in your throat. 3/7 panelists correctly identified this as PBR. Of the 4 panelists that listed PBR as their favorite, 2 identified it here and two missed it. 

Beer 3. 
Described as fruity and mysterious, reminiscent of dried beer on the floor, and a “cyclone of pee”. It reminded one panelist of Pepsi when what you really wanted was a Coke. It was correctly identified by 1/7 panelists as Miller Lite. Not a surprising outcome when no one on this panel listed Miller Lite as their favorite.

lightbeers cycling cicerone

Beer 4.
Described as a heavy beer weighted down with disappointment, “why are you even asking about mouthfeel anymore,” and “barf, but I like it.” It was correctly identified as Busch by 1/7 panelists. 2 out of 7 panelists listed Busch as their least favorite and one of them was the correct sole identifier. Know thy enemy.

Beer 5. 
Described as smelling of Danny’s pores and sweat glands, slightly bitter and barely sweet, intriguing, fresh, and like a spring rain. This was correctly identified by 1/7 panelists as Bud Heavy. 

Beer 6. 
Described as “like someone has drained all my creativity”, definitely the coldest, and “found my beach just kidding” This was correctly identified by 1/7 panelists as Coors Heavy. 

Beer 7. 
Described as a middle eastern take on America’s beer with a stale, bitter flavor. The only beer to go unidentified by every panelist. It ended up being Miller Heavy.

Conclusion 

Out of 49 total guesses (7 panelists with 7 beers each), only 10 were correct. If my high school stats serves me, random chance would have fared only slightly worse at 7/49 guesses. This means that our panelists are possibly better than a seven-sided die at determining which light beers are which. PBR likely has the most distinct taste as it was correctly identified by 3/7 drinkers and I could possibly conclude that this distinct taste is the reason it was most favorited. 
  
You may notice that some of the beers on the list are official “light” beers while some, technically, are not. Guess what? I lumped them all together because I don’t care. And what we found was that the tasting panel generally didn’t seem to care either.  If you think “heavy” and “lite” beers taste different enough to merit two different categories, more power to you, but Science and I gotta disagree. 

Things to change to make the science better: 

I should have had new, plastic cups for each sample. Instead, facilitators were frantically cleaning glassware between rounds. Comments like “this tastes like gross dishwasher” were common in the first round and “this tastes like an old sponge” were common in subsequent rounds. Though I’d like to point out I *ahem* facilitators used a brand new sponge, so that aroma was probably coming from the beer itself. Asking people to rank beers when presented with beers sequentially is a nightmare, next time I’ll serve beers all at once so people can rank properly. I may try a round with reference beers so that people can unidentified beers next identified ones. 

Meet the drinkers. Names have been changed to protect the identities of adults who got schmammered on a work night. 

  • Tim “The Thinker” Johnson. He’s analytical. He’s serious. His palate? Refined. When turned toward light beer, he teased out the subtle flavors with ease. Favorite beer: Bud Light.
  • Danny “The Tank” Johnson. He drinks Coors like it’s water. As he says, it’s his sober up beer. When there is a half drank fallen soldier on the floor in the morning, you know it was him because “that's how you know I drank every drop I could and didn’t just stop because my can was conveniently empty” Favorite beer: Bud Light.
  • Janey “The Doppelganger” Johnson. Her palate is as good as her handwriting, that is, immaculate. Why is she called The Doppelganger? No one knows. Favorite movie: The Prestige. Favorite Beer: PBR 
  • Lauren “Vino” Johnson. She drinks wine mostly, so she can drink any amount of 4% light beer and still be stone cold sober. Favorite Beer: Coors Heavy
  • Callie “Solo” Johnson. She brought her own solo cup. She’s committed to holding the standards of this study high, and she knows the color of these beers already. Favorite Beer: PBR
  • Taylor “Clearly Biased” Johnson. The man is biased. Good thing this was a blind study, he would not have been any help at all otherwise. Tryna pull a fast one on me perfectly describing the flavor profile of Bud Light as “tastes like Vegas craps table but you didn’t tip the waitress” even though he was really drinking Bud Heavy. Despite this, he guessed 3 of 7 beers correctly, more than everyone else. Favorite Beer: PBR
  • Lucy “The Failure” Johnson. She did not guess any of them correctly. Statistically, that was bound to happen and we’re all glad it happened to her.
The Gang Drinks Light Beer