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Jan 2, 2013 08:30 AM

Blind Tasting Methods

In a bourbon discussion, the subject of blind tasting came up, so I'm starting a separate thread on that subject... it applies to any beverage, I use it for beers, whiskies, cordials, rums, etc... I use a modified non-blind version for wine.

Step1: Label, say, 4 styrofoam cups with a pen on the bottom of the cup A, B, C, D...

Step 2: Pour about at least a finger-width of different bourbon in each. At the top of piece of notebook paper write down which whisky is in each of the cups. A: Elijah Craig, B: Old Forester, etc, C: Knob Creek, etc...

Step 3: Scramble the cups around so I can't recall the order. Then write a number on each cup: 1, 2, 3, 4

Step 4: TASTING STRAIGHT... From there it's just a tasting process. First time through I'll just sniff each of them. One thing that's fascinating to me is that oftentimes I'll find a whisky that has an amazing nose but when tasted it's just way off, i.e. for my palate the nose is a deceptive indicator of the total flavor when drank.

Then I'll sip each and make notes. I focus mostly on the initial impressions and then the lingering aftertastes.

In order to not get too confused or mouth-numb, initially I just compare two: 1 vs. 2, 2 vs. 3, 3 vs. 4. In small sips, it doesn't take much straight. For palate cleansing I just use plain water about room temp, no lemon, no coffee or anything else with a flavor.

I just make basic notes that make sense to me: is the flavor complex or simple, singular or evolving, notes such as wood or honey or caramel or whatever... is there a lingering "alcohol blast" that overpowers the flavors... any "yucky" or outlying flavors that just don't make sense... I do note the nose impressions but these can be deceptive: the tongue itself must have alot to do with the total flavor of bourbon, or some route from the mouth to the olfactory that you don't get just through the nose?

Step 5 (Optional): TASTE w/ MIXER: If you have a favorite mixer, add it now to each cup then repeat the tasting process...

Step 6: On my tasting notes paper I'll rank the 4 whiskies, the winner(s), the close 2nd(s), and those that I just didn't like...

Step 7: Look on the bottom of each cup and find out which whisky is which.

This is also a great party event with your friends... we have 'em at poker games, after dinner, etc... I use it with any beverage: wine, beer, whisky, rum, cordials, etc.... Oftentimes one person will find a flavor note that the rest of us appreciate once they point it out... The key for me in not getting palate numb is to go slow, take smaller sips than I would drinking it, and initially just compare 2 side by side, see which of those 2 I favor (or if they are tied, or I don't really like either), then move to the next two.

Where it really gets interesting is to match your "winners" from each tasting against each other.

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  1. Styrofoam cups? At that point I started to tune out.

    But I suggest you read "Molecular Gastronomy" so you understand how taste and smell work. It will change how you think about taste and smell.

    Also, you may want to read how Paul Pacult does his tastings. He is probably the top expert is the US and one of the top in the world. I've been through dozens of tastings with him, and he is rigorous and methodical, almost to the point of excess.

    Here's an article he wrote, and after is a description of how he tastes.

    F. Paul Pacult:

    Scoring: 1 to 5 stars, 1-avoid, 5-benchmarks, 2-4 safe.

    Consistent environment, thin crystal hand washed glasses including a copita, small wineglasses, 6 oz Riedel Vinum Port, others, washed without detergent, air dried. Plastic beer spit cups, no more than 8 spirits per tasting, am tasting, no food or drink before, start with totally fresh palate.
    Review: to computer in real time ASAP.

    Rare second tastings and changes, finds first impressions almost always accurate. Price, packaging and bottling are completely ignored.

    5 Star system:
    1 - well below established standard, undrinkable, unbalanced, not recommended
    2 - average or fair compared to peers, also not recommended
    3 - better than average, exceeds the norm, recommended
    4 - far exceeds average or fair, highly recommended
    5 - watershed, landmark product, highest recommendation, borrow money if you have and buy it.

    Abv (alcohol content) is reported, cask strength (from the cask) if known, plus suggested retail prices.

    Method: 20-30 minutes, I am very deliberate compared to my peers (so was Michael Jackson


    Sight: first, but not the most important, under bright lamp for 10-30 seconds, judging color, clarity, overall cleanliness (sediment?),
    appealing? About 1 minute.

    Nosing: about 50-60% of the score, accounts for 90% of taste, will not proceed if allergies or a cold, in three stages:

    1. series of gentle sniffs direct after pour, mouth open, lip of glass just beneath nose, then sit for 3 minutes.
    2. 5 min mark - deeper, longer inhalations
    3. 10 min mark - final whiff for confirmation, 5 to 15 minutes total.
    Return to nosing after tasting to double check or erase doubts.

    Tasting: immediately following nosing. Small sip, let rest on tip of tongue (palate entry), should remind me of aroma, usually but not always in harmony.

    1 minute - larger sip, rest on tongue for 15 to 30 seconds (whole of tongue, the midpalate). This makes or breaks the taste.
    Continued whole tongue tasting for perhaps 10 minutes (several tastings) to firm up rating.
    Cask strength: add mineral water for another round of tasting.

    Touch: mouthfeel, worth up to one star: oily, thin, syrupy, raw, biting, silky smooth?

    Savor: did I enjoy it or not? Three questions: did I like it? If so, to what degree? If I don't like it, to what degree?

    Total time: 20-30 minutes, and my method is purposefully rigid - this trains the tastebuds to work together.

    19 Replies
    1. re: JMF

      "Styrofoam cups... at that point I started to tune out"...

      And you tuned out why? The point is the simplicity of it... I can set up and blind taste-test 4 or 5 in the time it takes you to get your tasting set up... I'm not going to end up loving a bourbon or beer in Riedel crystal that I don't like in styrofoam.

      It's exactly all these elaborate procedures that are why more people don't do blind tastings, they think they actually have to go through all this formality...

      And I want to taste in a natural way... the way I would actually DRINK the product... I always go back and re-sniff, re-taste, re-swirl, several times as I'm making my notes.

      My goal is finding products that make the best total impression... That's what your expert calls "Savor". I'll make note of the nose, texture, specific flavors, etc. but in the end I'm looking for something that really pops on my palate, has no weaknesses, and compares favorably to the others in the tasting... THEN to find the true champions I'll take the winners of one night's tasting and pit them against the winners of prior nights.

      One reason for using portable cups is exactly as you point out in your second post: "preconceptions are strong". I absolutely want to eliminate any chance I know what I'm drinking with certainty. If I know the order of pour, if I'm the person who poured them, then unless I scramble the cups there's still that risk. Since you've studied molecular gastronomy you know that the sensory neural routes into the brain also synapse with association neurons linking prior experience to the current sensation. I don't want any prior predjudices I may have towards a given product to affect the current tasting. There's no faster way to avoid this than mark the cups and then scramble the order.

      1. re: TombstoneShadow

        Styrofoam cups have both aroma and a less than ideal mouthfeel. If that doesn't bother you, great, but it certainly does bother a lot of people, and certainly does impact the overall impression of whatever it is you're drinking.

        Applying structure and procedure to tastings is not "snooty." It's about consistency. Again, perhaps you're not interested in this, but spirits writers like Paul Pacult surely want to be able to say that they would have judged the same spirit the same way on multiple occasions. And people who aren't writers but who are serious about spirits and/or the industry have many of the same concerns.

        With regard to the 20 or 30 minute window, the fact is that spirits can change a bit in the glass. Temperature and oxygen can both factor in. Your palate can also change after you've been sipping for a while. It's important to make observations over a longer period if, again, you're concerned with consistency and/or if you want to understand at a deeper level what you do or do not like about a given spirit.

        At the end of the day the way you drink your spirits is up to you, but there's no way you're going to convince most people on this board that styrofoam is a good idea...

        1. re: davis_sq_pro

          Have you actually used styrofoam or is this some "textbook" answer? I'm "sniffing" a 10-oz Dart-brand styro cup now alongside a clean glass and there's no significant difference in aroma. Whatever vague difference there is would be so overwhelmed by the olfactory impressions of a heady beer, bourbon, or other spirit as to be completely inconsequential. Sure styro feels a bit different on the lips than glass but that's a constant over all the beverages I'm sipping in a given night, it cancels out.

          But if you think you will love something in crystal that you won't like in styrofoam, then just put a sticker on the bottom of your crystal and scramble the glasses.

          When it comes to initial tasting, however, I prefer an opaque glass / cup so that there are no visual impressions to get in the way of the taste and to greatly reduce the chance I might recognize the beverage by it's color. One pale ale may have a much darker coloration than another, for example, and if I see that in a clear glass now I'm no longer tasting blind.

          I'm not trying to convince anyone... just sharing a fast simple blind-tasting method because the fact is most people DON'T blind test, and I suspect it's because they think they need more elaborate procedures and have to spend 20 to 30 minutes with each drink... no wonder they fear "palate fatigue", which is what the poster from the bourbon thread mentioned, prompting my answer here that there is a fast-track...

          1. re: TombstoneShadow

            I don't know about you, but I can smell styrofoam from five feet away. And taste it very strongly with spirits, and hot nonalcoholic drinks like tea and coffee, to the point that it makes them undrinkable. Take a nibble of a styrofoam cup and tell me you don't taste anything. If so, then your palate is in pretty bad shape.

            I've never had palate fatigue, nor anyone I have judged serious competitions with. If you have water and plain, unsalted crackers, no problems. I have judged up to 100 spirits in a day without difficulties. Of course you have to use a spit bucket. I know sake experts in Japan who can judge several hundred in a day without issues.

            1. re: TombstoneShadow

              "Have [I] actually used styrofoam?" Yes, I have plenty of experience with the stuff. Have used it for soda at picnics, coffee and tea at various offices, and even beer at an especially upscale frat party in college.

              Like JMF, I can both smell and taste it, and I don't think it's going to be canceled out enough.

              I also have to disagree with you on hiding the spirit from view; in my opinion color, clarity, and overall appearance are important characteristics and evaluating them is the first step in tasting.

              Again, just my opinion. (No flame wars please :-))

              1. re: TombstoneShadow

                This is important:
                You don't want to put ethanol into a Styrofoam cup.

                Styrofoam is polystyrene, and ethanol dissolves styrene. The polystyrene and ethanol create a chemical reaction and the drinker ingests styrene. Invariably, the styrene-ethanol chemical reaction changes what you taste. Which renders any test results using Styrofoam cups invalid.

                It's a terrible idea to drink any alcohol out of Styrofoam, but especially high-proof alcohol (spirits) out of Styrofoam. It's not safe.

                Read the scientific literature here for styrene solubility in ethanol:
                STYRENE 1. Exposure Data - IARC Monographs
                "Soluble in acetone, diethyl ether and ethanol"
                (Lide, 2001).

                This is just one source, so please read the other sources on styrene solubility in ethanol. There are many.

                A search at the FDA website, Google Scholar, even a regular Google search will pull up the scientific references on styrofoam/styrene and alcohol interactions.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Impact on taste is the least of your worries.

                  "The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that styrene is a possible human carcinogen."



                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Walking through the scientific evidence just takes a few steps:

                    1) Important conversions: 1mcg = 1 billionth of a Liter; 1mg = 1 millionth of a liter

                    2) The average odor detection threshold for styrene is .32 parts per million (ppm) : Note that this is a detection level with no other major competing scents, more on that in a bit.

                    SO, the question is, when various beverages are introduced to a polystyrene cup, how long does it take the migrated (leached) styrene to reach .32 ppm, the level at which styrene is detectable? 1 second, 1 minute, 1 hour ?

                    If, for example, it takes 1 hour, then the tasting is long over before there is any scientific chance that the odor would even be minutely detected. So, let's check the peer-reviewed scientific literature on this:

                    In the March 2009 edition of Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, a variety of beverages were tested in foam cups to find how much styrene leached into the beverage, over what period of time, and at different temperature ranges. Here are the results:

                    A) For tea, milk, and milk cocoa, 68degrees F, at 10 and 30 mins in mcg/L:
                    Tea: 0, .61
                    Milk: 0, .65
                    Cocoa: 0, .71

                    B) For 15% ethanol in mg/L
                    24 hours at 104 degrees F: .067

                    So, for milk and cocoa, both of which have high fat content associated with the highest rates of styrene leaching, after 30 minutes a level of 0.61 parts per billion was reached. FAR under the .32 pp million level of detectable odor

                    For 15% alcohol, even after keeping it at 104 degrees for 24 hours, the concentration was 0.067 parts per million, about 1/5 the level of detectable odor. And this involves HEAT, another factor known to accelerate the rate of migration and leaching.

                    Now, I'm not suggesting that ANY level of styrene is good for you but frankly if you're concerned about chemicals and genetic alteration of the food supply there are many far bigger problems. Also, styrene does naturally occur in a wide range of food.

                    The point of whether it's healthy or not is quite apart from this topic which is odor and taste alteration of beverages. Of course nobody is going to keep their alcohol in a foam cup for 24 hours at 104 degrees, more like 10-20 minutes at plus or minus 50 or 60. There is no scientific evidence I've found that shows such a short exposure has any appreciable effect on taste.

                    Reference study:

                    1. re: TombstoneShadow

                      Sorry, I don't agree at all, and I have many current scientific documents myself on (poly)styrene's solubility in alcohol, solubility that begins immediately with contact.

                      I could go mana a mano with you and cite reference after reference that proves my point. But I won't. It's not worth my time, and also...

                      ...because...there are so many other reasons not to consume alcohol, or milk or a multitude of other beverages, in styrofoam cups. And so many reasons not to use styrofoam for any purpose.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        The gold standard of scientific research is publication in a peer-reviewed journal, not assertion. So far the only two such publications linked here both point to the same conclusion: for reasonably short periods of time and at reasonable temperatures typical of a simple short tasting, the migration rate of styrene ranges from chemically undetectible to negligible.

                        Those two studies are here:

                        and here: The last one is linked from the national library of medicine at the NIH.

                        These aren't "data sheets" saying that styrene in large quantities is bad for you, everyone knows that... I can Google and get dozens of those data sheets. For that matter too much alcohol is bad for you... These studies specifically look at the RATE at which styrene migrates from polystyrene for different beverages under different conditions.

              2. re: TombstoneShadow

                I use mini brandy snifters for my blind tastings, get them at World Market for $2 each, mark the bottoms with marker or masking tape.

                1. re: ncyankee101

                  I use those at home for evaluations and reviews as well. I found a few that for me are perfect.

                  During tastings I like wine glasses.

              3. re: JMF

                >>> Styrofoam cups? At that point I started to tune out. <<<

                Amen to that!

                1. re: zin1953

                  As previously described in a post that seems to have been removed, I have a tasting scheduled for next Friday (Jan. 11) with 7 tasters. Two world-class imperial stouts and two excellent bourbons will be sampled, each poured in both glassware and styrofoam. The cup and glassware will be as similarly-shaped as possible so that shape of the container is not a variable.

                  Besides tasting the beverages blind, we'll test the hypothesis that there's a meaningful difference in scent between a major-brand styrofoam cup and clean glassware. To the extent possible, tester's bias will be controlled by not informing the others as to my personal opinion on the matter.

                  I have an expectation of what the results will be, but am very curious to find out definitively... Will report back.

                  1. re: TombstoneShadow

                    I hate to do a Robert De Nero impersonation but, "You talking to me?"

                    Could you point to a place where I said that I could smell a styrofoam cup from 5-feet away? Either I have Alzheimer's and don't remember, someone hacked my CH account and posted under my name, or . . . I never said it. I'm personally inclined to believe that latter.

                    Now . . . if you would like to know what *my* problem is with styrofoam is that it affects both the aroma and flavor of wines -- I *never* drink wine out of styrofoam. I cannot recall ever drinking distillates out of styrofoam, and I'd prefer to never drink coffee from styrofoam, either . . .

                    1. re: zin1953

                      I don't use styrofoam for wines either, not that it would meaningfully affect the flavor IMO (assuming the SHAPE of the cup is similar to the shape of alternative glassware), just that the cost of opening 7 to 10 bottles to accompany a properly-matched meal dictates the use of stemware... I used to host a wine and food pairing tasting series for high net-worth individuals in the Chicago area... imagine using styro for those :)... but once the stemware is arrayed in front of each taster, I encourage doing a side-by-side progressive taste comparison A vs. B, B vs. C, etc. as I do for less expensive beverages. This is the "modified" non-blind comparison method I mention in the OP.

                      I'll videotape this tasting event next Friday and post it to YouTube... the 7 gentlemen present will have a combined +/- 200 years experience with the beverage varieties we will be using (bourbon and imperial stout). Viewers will be able to watch and listen to them sniffing alternatively empty glassware and styro, and then tasting the beverages in each. You'll also be able to watch the styro cup package being ripped open so you'll know I didn't substitute some "special" styro...

                      Their comments will speak for themselves, one way or the other.

                      1. re: TombstoneShadow

                        You know -- no offense -- I don't really care. I've done enough of my OWN blind tastings (all-too-frequently, I might add) over the past 40+ years to know three things above all:

                        1) Blind tastings can be eye-opening in terms of eliminating subconscious prejudices/biases, predispositions, and the influence of labels, bottles, screw-caps, etc.

                        2) As I said above, "on any given day . . . " -- meaning a) that every individual can, and will, have off-days and good days; and b) that the same identical wines/beers/sprits tasting at 10:00 a.m. will more than likely be ranked differently at 2:00 p.m. the same day with the same tasters.

                        3) Some people are more sensitive to certain compounds than others -- meaning a) that (e.g.) I am more sensitive to sulfur dioxide and less sensitive to volatile acidity than the average taster; b) that EVERY individual's taste is theirs, not someone else's; and c) there is no right or wrong -- it's all (99.8%) subjective.

                        Bottom line: I have done blind tastings using glass, clear plastic, and styrofoam cups. TO ME, the wine was clearly different from each of the three containers -- so much so that, in several instances, I could not identify which was which. Ergo, I avoid styrofoam for any sort of "serious," "critical" evaluation.


                        BTW, the tasting was set up like this:

                        Wine 1-Glass W2-G W3-G W4-G
                        Wine 1-Plastic W2-P W3-P W4-P
                        Wine 1-Styrofoam W2-S W3-S W4-S

                        Obviously I could see what wines were in glass, versus plastic versus styrofoam, but I had no idea which order the wines were in. The object of the exercise was to match Wine 1 with Wine 1 with Wine 1; Wine 2 with Wine 2 with Wine 2; etc., regardless of the "cup" used.

                        I've done this a total of four times -- twice with red wines, twice with white wines. Couldn't do it in a way that was statistically significant . . .


                        1. re: zin1953

                          "You know -- no offense -- I don't really care..."

                          No offense taken. As previously described I don't use foam for wine primarily b/c of the cost and visual value of seeing the wine, but also due to a bias that drinking wine out of anything but glass in basically inelegant.

                          I'm curious, in your experiment did you control for container shape? i.e. your wineglass was shaped like a foam cup?

                          Further, did you note whether your ranked preference for the wines changed with the container type? i.e. in glass you ranked wine 1 best, in foam you ranked wine 3 best, in plastic you ranked wine 4 best?

                          Lastly, did you try this totally blind to control for any latent bias? i.e. blindfold yourself and have a friend hold the container under your nose and swirl it to see if you can detect any meaningful difference in the nose impression?

                          1. re: TombstoneShadow

                            >>> I'm curious, in your experiment did you control for container shape? i.e. your wineglass was shaped like a foam cup? <<<

                            Wine glass was a standard INAO glass, nothing fancy. Plastic and styrofoam containers were of similar shape and total capacity.

                            >>> Further, did you note whether your ranked preference for the wines changed with the container type? i.e. in glass you ranked wine 1 best, in foam you ranked wine 3 best, in plastic you ranked wine 4 best? <<<

                            In each case, the consensus among the group of tasters were: a) glass, b) plastic, c) styrofoam. This was done once among a group of wine professionals, and three times among amateurs (within the context of classes I taught through UCSC).

                            >>> Lastly, did you try this totally blind to control for any latent bias? i.e. blindfold yourself and have a friend hold the container under your nose and swirl it to see if you can detect any meaningful difference in the nose impression? <<<

                            No, and that's a good idea. However, the aromatics were so strong coming off the stryofoam, I'm not sure it would change anything. That said, there are new plastic glasses now that are said to be completely neutral, so perhaps I'll try this for a 5th time . . . .

              4. I'm a believer in blind tastings. I'm involved in a number of blind tasting that range from mostly whiskey, to a number of spirits and cigars.

                When my wife and I were in Calf wine country and when we both like a couple of wines we would do blind tastings of the two to decide which we each liked with no other preconceived impressions other than what we already knew.

                Blind tastings are the best way to find out what you really like

                1. I just want to add that blind tastings are eye openers... After doing quite a few of them over the years, it really showed me how strong preconceptions are. I have revisited spirits that I thought poorly of, and found them very different and pleasing. Also ones I thought I loved, to be mediocre at best.

                  I've gotten to the point where if I know what the spirit is I can tune it out, because I had proved to myself time and again, that every time you sit down to a tasting, it's like the spirit is something new. Every batch is different, no matter how much the blenders try for consistency. Also your palate changes, grows, has on and off days, etc.

                  Twice the past year I had to excuse myself from judging competitions because I could tell that my palate was having an off day due to various reasons. I've had other days when my palate and flavor/aroma memory have been so keenly focused it blew me away, and I was able to name exact brands during blind tastings.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: JMF

                    >>> Twice the past year I had to excuse myself from judging competitions because I could tell that my palate was having an off day due to various reasons. I've had other days when my palate and flavor/aroma memory have been so keenly focused it blew me away, and I was able to name exact brands during blind tastings. <<<

                    Very true. As with the NFL, "On any given day . . . "

                    As a professional wine judge, I've had good days and bad when doing blind tastings . . . I think EVERY judge has.

                    I remember one day in particular when friends invited me to dinner, and had decanted six wines into different carafes to have me taste them. I nailed five out the the six: vintage, grapes, region, producer.

                    Then again, there have been days when I haven't been able to identify $#|+

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Yes, I totally understand. A few months ago I was in a blind tasting competition on vodka. I don't like vodka, but have tasted around 100+ and written reviews. There were six vodkas in the line up. We had to say what they were made from, and if possible what country they were from, and even more, what the exact brands were. I won, nailed all six as to all, right down to brands. That was one of those days when you are on.

                  2. The follow-up blind tasting to compare similar-shaped glass and foam is linked here:

                    1. I'm not saying that this isn't a way for people to taste things at home, but to say this is a blind tasting in any way is just incorrect.

                      You picked up the bottles
                      You poured the liquors into the glasses
                      You were able to see color differences and detect odor differences at this point
                      You labeled the glasses and documented which was in each
                      You shuffled the glasses
                      You tasted the liquor

                      It just isn't blind, there are way too many points in the process where you could begin to introduce biases, so to call it a blind tasting is just incorrect in every way.

                      As someone who does consumer research for a living . . . its just is how it is . . . .

                      If you are doing this for others at a party (as also noted), it becomes different but for yourself to taste, no.

                      22 Replies
                      1. re: thimes

                        Agreed. Plus -- and most importantly -- even for the other tasters . . .

                        The tasters themselves picked up each container (glass or styrofoam) and placed it against their lips in order to taste -- thus knowing instantly from which vessel they were drinking (let alone the visual aid of immediately seeing from which container -- glass or styrofoam).

                        There is NO WAY this was a blind tasting in any sense of the term.

                        1. re: thimes

                          thimes... this experiment was focused on the blindest possible comparison of the CUPS, not the beverages themselves.

                          1: The tasters sniffed the dry glass and foam blind... literally with a blindfold, and they did not hold the containers in their hands during this process, they were completely blind as to which was which...

                          2: The tasters sniffed the swirled beverages in glass and foam blind as above... completely blind as to which was in which container. They did not touch the cups with hands or lips at this point as they were held by a 2nd person... Now, some say that they can "smell foam 5 feet away", and it "has a terrible chemical scent"... we were blindly testing that hypothesis.

                          The above 2 steps are completely independent of each item in your laundry list: they didn't pick up the bottles or pour the liquor nor did they see the color differences and they had no idea which cup was which. The fact that they knew what type of beverage it was is not a factor b/c that beverage is constant for both containers. I suppose even that could have been kept unidentified and is an interesting adjustment for a future test. The key is we were looking to see if there was any difference in taste or scent of the same beverage in two different containers, hopefully you get that distinction. BTW, none of the other tasters even knew this tasting would occur until they arrived at the residence so their reactions were spontaneous and authentic. I didn't tell them "I don't think there's a difference" or any other such biasing statements.

                          3: For the actual tasting the subjects had to remove the blindfold. I suppose we could have left those on, but they would still know which was which when they lift the container to their mouths.

                          4: Yes there's probably some residual bias as with all experiments. You deal with that: A) by having numerous subjects. The classic number for random testing is 30 however many statistically valid tests now have a smaller number; B) by other researchers duplicating the test and seeing if they obtain similar results. The single-biggest challenge I had was finding nearly identically shaped cups as shape is such a variable in overall flavor experience.

                          Nice to hear you do consumer research for a living. I also have 2 degrees in business and have owned a marketing and multi-media advertising company for nearly 20 years. I'm very open to any suggestions you might have as to how to further refine this test of CUP differences.

                          1. re: TombstoneShadow

                            Maybe I'm having a mental moment but as I read your original post it was completely about your blind tasting method when tasting beverages. I will have to reread later to see if I'm missing something.

                            1. re: thimes

                              That's the diff...
                              I thought you were referring to the follow-up to the OP here: so my reply was about it.

                              As for whether the process in the original post is a blind tasting or not. Ultimately it comes down to whether the taster knows what beverage is in each specific glass or not. If they don't know then to that extent it's blind. If they further don't know what brands are being sampled in totality then it's even blinder and if they further don't know even what variety of beverage it is, then it's blinder yet.

                              Within the bourbon-tasting community for example it's common for several friends to get together and sample 4 or 5 bourbons knowing which 5 are being tasted that night, but not knowing which is in which cup. That's just a common practice and the bottom line is they are blind to which exact bourbon they are drinking so they can more objectively compare one to the other. Does it meet a critical industry standard of "blind to everything"... no. But it's still casually referred to as a "blind tasting". Maybe it should be called "semi-blind" to be completely accurate.

                              I use this method for all types of spirits and beer and can truly say that with very few exceptions even though I purchased the booze, poured it, etc. by the time I've scrambled the cups around, let the foam subside, etc. I don't know which is in which cup and that meets the standard of what I want to accomplish which is to compare them objectively without any bias towards one brand or the other.

                              1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                We just have very different expectations of what "blind" testing means.

                                1. re: thimes

                                  btw... for your personal blind tastings, how do you manage those?

                                  If I want to compare, say, 5 different bourbons... let's say Old Forester, Knob Creek, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, and WLW.... how else am I going to compare them objectively other than to go out, buy them, pour them in unmarked glasses, scramble the glasses around to make absolutely sure I don't know which is in which glass, and then sample each and make my tasting notes?

                                  You say you have a "very different idea" on how this would be done, so please take me through it starting with those 5 bourbons...

                                  BTW, here's an example of a "blind tasting" of 16 bordeaux. Notice the writer calls it "blind tasting but not double blind" b/c the tasters knew in advance what labels they were tasting, just didn't know which label was in which glass.

                                  Here's another one of a blind comparison tasting of California vs. French reds. Read down to 4th paragraph where it explains what a "single blind" tasting is: you know the list of wines you're drinking, you just don't know which wine is in which glass:

                                  1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                    like I said in my original post, I don't have any issue with the tasting structure itself, in fact I think it is a good idea - however, it is in no way BLIND testing and discussing the results in that framework is fundamentally misleading and wrong.

                                    There is no way to conduct "personal blind tasting" - you can not be the researcher and the subject and have any semblance of "blind" (short of creating some computerized pouring system). That has been my point given the title of the thread.

                                    I applaud the effort to try and be subjective in tasting, even at home, and I enjoy doing this at dinner parties for fun with guests. However to experience all the trappings of marketing in setting up the tasting inherently makes it non-subjective - even though we'd like to think differently.

                                    Maybe next time invite the neighbor over, have them pour your glasses in the other room and let them partake in the experience with you, while removing some (though not all) of the biases you create in your method.

                                    Or heck, I love bourbon, I'll come pour and we can have a methodology discussion and geek out ;)

                                    1. re: thimes

                                      thanks for the invite thimes... if you come across something extraordinary in the meantime, LMK !

                                    2. re: TombstoneShadow

                                      If you refer to my post above, where I wrote

                                      >>> I remember one day in particular when friends invited me to dinner, and had decanted six wines into different carafes to have me taste them. I nailed five out the the six: vintage, grapes, region, producer. <<<

                                      They kept me out of the kitchen while they decanted -- out of my sight -- the six wines in question. Then, they brought out the decanters, placing the now-empty wine bottles into a cupboard where I wouldn't see them (just in case I went into the kitchen for something). The decanters were labeled A - F with little stickers. FWIW, the decanters were not identical in shape. Then, the wines were poured for me, and I was asked to identify them.

                                      It was obvious from first sight the wines were red, but I was given no specific information about the wines whatsoever.


                                      When I judge wines for various competitions, I have anywhere from two to 100 identically-shaped glasses in front of me, typically marked with random numbers (so as to eliminate any numerical bias). The only information I am typically given is the varietal -- sometimes, the varietal and vintage -- but nothing else. None of the tasters on the panel will know any more than that.

                                      If I am tasting wines for publication as part of a tasting panel, it will depend upon the magazine/newsletter. Some might taste the wines completely in the open (i.e.: one can see the label). Others might taste blind, say 8-12 wines per flight, with -- again -- the only information provided in varietal or varietal + vintage. Typically, one person on staff will open all of the bottles, and thus know what the wines are, but he/she will place the wines in bags or wrap them in aluminum foil and then leave the room. Someone else will enter the room and, seeing the paper- or foil-wrapped bottles, will mark each bottle alphabetically A through H (or L). Thus, only one person on the panel will know what the wines are, but he/she will not know the order in which they are served.

                                      1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                        I'm in a group that does blind tastings all the time with bourbons. Not absolute blind tastings by the standards that have been discussed so far in this thread but blind enough that one can form an opinion without knowing which bourbon you're drinking. I get sent 2 oz plastic bottles for tastings which are numbered. Sometimes I know what bourbons, like wheated vs a mix of wheated and non, are in the tasting line up but most often I have no idea what bourbons are being sampled until after the tasting. True I know it's bourbon but we also do samples of "spirits" in which we don't have any clue what kind of spirit it is. Sure the color can give you some idea and can influence you some what so it's not A TRUE BLIND TEST. I get that, but it still allows you to evaluate something without a lot of preconceived impressions. Again I didn't say no preconceived impressions.

                                        It's fun, we learn which spirits we like without being influence by $, name or status. Can't discuss it in the the frame work of a true blind test but can certainly discuss it in the frame work in which it was conducted.

                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                          I don't want to belabor the whole "blind" thing - but seeing as that is the subject of the post its hard for me (and it is what I do for a living, so have to have this discussion with clients weekly). What I don't want people to walk away from this posting with is the idea that doing a "blind" test is so complicated or insane that it can't be done, so let's just call everything a "blind" test.

                                          It is VERY seldom that a study is conducted in which the subject is completely "blind", including blind to the fact that they are participating in a study (there are plenty of historic examples of very unethical studies that were completely blind, but those studies would never be allowed today and rightly so).

                                          Blind essentially just means "unaware". In conducting any study there are trade-offs as to what you let people be aware of and what you keep people blind to. Those decisions are based on what the objectives of the study are.

                                          In that regard, you can have a blind tasting of bourbon. Subjects are aware they are tasting bourbon, so they aren't blind to spirit type but they could be blind to all other aspects.

                                          Accordingly, you can do a blind tasting of wheated bourbon. But to be credible you should say, I did a blind tasting of wheated bourbons . . . which should indicate that you were not blind to the fact that you were tasting wheated bourbons.

                                          You don't have to be blindfolded, with someone else pipetting unknown liquids into your mouth for a study to be a "true blind test". Though if your study was to determine if people could identify unknown liquids then maybe you would need to do that to control for things like color, viscosity, etc, etc.

                                          My intent is not to belittle Tombstone's intent. In the original post coupled with the title of the thread (and yes it is hard to be completely accurate in a social message board, thus all these long posts, sorry) the taster is really blind (or unaware) to nothing. It is not sufficient to just say "okay, now I'll just forget everything up to now and be objective". That isn't how the human brain works, it just isn't, thus the need for blind tests. We won't even get into the need for double blind testing . . . . .

                                          Okay, that's enough from my soap box.

                                          I hope people keep tasting and trying to be objective as possible. It is fun and interesting to do. Just be aware of what outside influencers you're still being impacted by when talking about your preferences.

                                          1. re: scubadoo97

                                            Scuba: There actually are common industry structures for blind tasting. Specifically there's single-blind, double-blind, and even triple-blind.

                                            Single-blind is where you know something quite specific about the beverage (such as appellation or even the specific labels). Double-blind is where you know only a broad generality such as "bourbon" or "cabernet" and triple blind is where you don't know anything... it could be a pale ale or a barolo, you don't know anything up front. And there's variations around these basic structures.

                                            In your examples, with unmarked bottles and the only thing you know is it's bourbon, I'd call that pretty close to double-blind. In your second exammple where you know a bit more such as wheateds / non-wheateds then that's probably closer to a single-blind.

                                            But the common factor is it's still a blind test b/c you don't know which beverage is in which glass.

                                            It's interesting to google "single vs. double blind tasting" for more info. Here's a couple links I posted earlier:

                                            "blind tasting but not double blind" of 16 bordeaux. The tasters knew in advance the exact labels, just didn't know which label was in which glass.

                                            A blind comparison tasting of California vs. French reds. Read 4th paragraph on "single blind" tasting: you know the list of wines you're drinking, you just don't know which wine is in which glass:

                                            1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                              It is so hard for me to just leave this alone . . . . but this is my last post (i hope) on this thread . . . .

                                              blind - the subject is unaware of certain key variables

                                              double-blind - both the subject and the researcher are unaware

                                              triple-blind - the subject, researcher, and (for example) the person doing the analysis are unaware - this is typically used in instances where the company has some stake in the outcome such as a drug company (funding the study) has an interest in the drug having an impact

                                              While these terms may have been appropriated by other industries where their meaning may be altered, in research this is what these terms mean. Using them otherwise is empirically incorrect.

                                              1. re: thimes

                                                >>> While these terms may have been appropriated by other industries where their meaning may be altered, in research this is what these terms mean. Using them otherwise is empirically incorrect. <<<

                                                Up until now, I've agreed with most, if not everything, you've said. Here, however, is where I disagree with you. Words and terms do not exist in a vacuum. Ergo, in one context, the word "vintage" may simply mean "something old," whereas in another context, it may mean "the calendar year in which the grapes were harvested."

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  zin I totally agree with you - that is what I meant when I said "may have been appropriated by other industries where their meanings may be altered"

                                                  What I am saying is that there is no context change here. The context that we are talking about is "taste testing". Taste testing is by definition sensory/perception testing (aka Psychological research). The industry conducting the taste test is irrelevant. The rules and vernacular of taste testing is the same whether we are talking academic research, food research, or wine research. The human psyche does not change because we are tasting wine.

                                                  To argue otherwise is wrong. I don't believe this is opinion, I believe it is research fact.

                                                  I am shocked that the industry conducts taste testing this way and disheartened by how they misuse the terms. What people choose to do with that is up to them. I can't believe that the industry and consumers who read these articles don't demand better.

                                                  I would hope that those that know better read these articles and take them for the puffery that they are based on how the tests are conducted and how the findings are misrepresented.

                                                  Keep on tasting! (I mean that last part seriously.)

                                                  1. re: thimes

                                                    Good lord, why are you shocked???

                                                    The idea of a double-blind test in, say, medical research is one thing. But in terms of TASTING, it's 100% -- well, OK, 95% subjective. Once you get beyond detecting (or not detecting) faults in a wine -- far more prevalent to speak of faults in wine than in spirits -- everything else is SUBjective. Is Wine 2873 "better" than Wine 1586? What makes it "better"? Why does ______________ (insert name of wine and/or spirits critic here) prefer X to Y?

                                                    It's because he or she LIKES it better . . . there's nothing else.

                                                2. re: thimes

                                                  thimes..... Your definitions are for classic scientific research projects... hypothesis testing if you will.

                                                  "Blind tasting" as it's used in the wine / spirits / beer world is different. See the two links previously provided, those are first-class beverage tastings.... the 2nd one comparing some of the greatest bordeaux reds (Latour, Cheval Blanc, etc..) against California offerings... you can see how the terminology is used in this specific industry.

                                                  "blind tasting but not double blind" of 16 bordeaux.

                                                  A blind comparison tasting of California vs. French reds. Read 4th paragraph on "single blind" tasting:

                                                  1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                                    I guess I've learned what I've always known. Anyone can perform bad research.

                                                  2. re: thimes

                                                    It took awhile, but my OCD meter finally went off.

                                                    What works for you in formal research - honestly - is completely irrelevent to tasting and reviewing and vice versa. Completely. "Blind tasting" is exactly and only what the taster/designer says it is, nothing more or less. The term is not patented, copyrighted or trademarked and there is no universal definition.

                                                    Your formal research is not governed by spirits, beer or wine protocols; nor the reverse. I'm sure the protocols of Janis Robinson, F. Paul Pacult and/or the Beverage Tasting Institute would be similarly objectionable at research forums.

                                                    Now - since I don't know you and you don't know me - I'd have to call the preceding a double blind observation, lol....

                                                  3. re: TombstoneShadow

                                                    Thank you.

                                                    I would just like others to attempt more blind tastings and posting results without fear of being chastised for not following scientific methods to the letter that a drug might go through to get approval from the FDA.

                                                    These tastings are a lot of fun and are educational.

                                                    Just as an example, when visiting a winery my wife and I both picked what we thought was our favorite Zin in a given line up. We then did a blind tasting between to two to see if our impressions were any different not knowing price and age or anything that we were told by the server.

                                                    Sometimes we were consistent to our original pick and sometimes not. We did them blind more than once to be sure of our picks.

                                                    In a bourbon blind tasting of 10 or so Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selections I found that I really didn't like the 16 YO gift shop expression even though it was quite a bit more expensive and sought after. Too much wood for me.

                                                    My BIL was visiting and mentioned that he thought Belvedere vodka was the best. I happened to have both Blevedere and Titos on my bar and did a blind tasting of the two in identical Glencairn glasses. I personally really couldn't tell them apart.
                                                    He picked the Titos and on subsequent tastings again picked the Titos. It was fun and he saw that he could drink a vodka that to him was better and cheaper than what he thought was his favorite. I hope it saved him a few bucks, but Titos has gotten more expensive over time.

                                                    Time for a new tasting

                                                    1. re: scubadoo97

                                                      "In a bourbon blind tasting of 10 or so Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selections I found that I really didn't like the 16 YO gift shop expression even though it was quite a bit more expensive and sought after..."

                                                      Great example, Scuba...

                                                      That's exactly why to do these tastings... I'll give you another "family" of bourbons where I actually like the basic offering the best: WL Weller. All their stuff is pretty good, but my favorite is basic white label tasted blind, even though it's the least "prestigious" of the line. In fact it's one of my favorites tasted blind against any bourbon.

                                                      1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                                        We've done our share of BT tastings as well. OWA is one of my favorite wheated bourbon and always scores high in blind tastings