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Beer: Can they taste the difference?

The Story


Five tasters sit around a table, sipping five different beers in numbered glasses. The tasters know there's a microbrew from Granville Island Brewery, a Carling Black Label, a Labatt Blue, a Rainier (from the United States) and a Molson Canadian - but they haven't been told which is which. It's The Journal's beer taste test. Watch this clip to find out how they fare. 

Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Sept. 26, 1985
Host: Bill Cameron, Barbara Frum
Reporter: Mark Schneider
Duration: 9:30

Did You know?


• This clip aired in the wake of the Molson/Carling O'Keefe merger. Over the years, many people have questioned whether there really are any significant taste differences between any of the major breweries' products and their various brands. As the major breweries became increasingly consolidated, this issue became more apparent. Microbreweries and the home brewing trend of the 1980s and 90s were both responses to the "sameness" of the major labels' brews.

• Because of such taste similarities, the battle for beer market share tends to be all about image rather than taste. Paul Brent's 2004 book Lager Heads: Labatt and Molson Face Off for Canada's Beer Money examines the issue: "The country's two largest breweries, Labatt and Molson, continue to compete over products that, with a few exceptions, taste pretty much the same to the average beer drinker. For decades they have faced off in high-stakes advertising and marketing campaigns in a bid to control market share."

• There are various types of brews but, historically, the two main divisions are between ale and lager. Ales are fermented warm, with yeast that rises to the top. Ales tend to taste more complex, robust and sometimes bitter. Lagers are brewed at cooler temperatures (8 to 15 C) and the yeast settles to the bottom after fermentation. Lagers are said to taste milder and smoother. Ales came from the British tradition, while lagers are traditionally German.


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