Beer drinkers cannot tell the difference between the major brands of lager, blind tasting carried out by academics has shown.
Britain's top beer writer, Ben McFarland (Left) says that all major brands of lager do taste much the same and suggests drinkers should start drinking craft beers if they want to experience different tastes. Image: SourceWire
In a study at the Stockholm School of Economics, researchers gave volunteers samples of Budvar, Heineken and Stella Artois and found that people were unable to tell them apart with the labels removed.
The leaders of the study said: "Brand loyalty in this market is likely to be driven largely by marketing and packagin" rather than taste."
So does that mean people who think they prefer one lager over another have been duped by advertisers?
Ray Bailey, who co-authored the book Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer, said there is little to distinguish between the lagers available in most liquor stores and mainstream pubs in many parts of the world.
"Anyone tasting several beers side by side ought to notice subtle variations in colour, aroma and flavour," he said, "but for those whose idea of fun isn't peering at and sniffing their pint, the differences will be negligible."
Bailey said he would have difficulty picking out a specific lager in a blind tasting, despite having written about beer for many years.
"There's no doubt good branding and presentation can increase consumers' enjoyment of a product," he said.
Ben McFarland, the current triple-crowned Beer Writer of the Year in the UK, agreed there is little to distinguish between the three brands used in the study.
"They are all the same ABV [alcohol-by-volume] and they all have more or less the same ingredients," he said. "But you could do the same with the most popular wines or white breads or teabags - the mainstream brands are going to bunch together," McFarland said.
However, he said it would be wrong to take Budvar, Heineken and Stella Artois as representative of all lagers.
"Lager is always perceived as the opposite of craft beer, but I think when it's brewed properly it can be just as complex as ale. In fact, the difference between a lager and an ale doesn't have to be much at all: you can have a light, sparkling ale and a dark, heavy lager.
"Lager is often seen as the last bastion of the scoundrel for people who don't appreciate beer. Of course, there are lesser lagers, but if you go to Germany there's an amazing selection out there. 'Lager' just means 'store' in German so it's really not limited to the taste you associate with Stella or Heineken."
For those looking for a lager with a more distinctive taste, McFarland recommended buying those produced by craft brewers.
Bailey said: "Many smaller 'craft' breweries produce lagers which, even though they are still clean and subtle, have a pronounced character beyond packaging."
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