Without exception, in every match-up between beers in the Imported Division, the beer that won was from a country whose citizens drink more beer per capita. More specifically, in match-ups where the home countries’ per capita consumption was close, the result was decided by only one vote. For rulings where one country’s citizens vastly outdrank the other’s, there was no dissenting vote. Basically, the drunker your citizens, the better your beer. (At least, according to our blind tasters.)
According to our results, we should all be drinking beer from the country whose citizens have the highest per capita beer consumption in the world: the Czech Republic. One of the most well-known exported beers from the Czech Republic is Pilsner Urquell, the original Pilsner. Brewed in the town of Pilsen, it was the world’s first light golden lager in a sea of amber and dark ales, making it an instant success and the most widely imitated style of beer. The extremely soft water of Pilsen, Czech Republic — it’s practically distilled water — made for a hoppy, dry beer that left no room for covering off flavors. If you prefer light lagers, you’d have done well in the Czech Republic in 1842.
If you were wondering, the only country in the Import Division whose citizens drink more beer than the average American is Ireland, consuming 103.7 liters compared to 78.2 liters per person in 2010 (there are ~59 liters in a keg). Of the 78 liters of beer we each consume in America, only 13 percent is imported — but this is actually pretty diverse by American standards. Back in the early ’80s, we were only importing 3 percent of our beer.
There’s obviously been a shift, but why? Since the Carter administration deregulated the beer brewing industry in 1979 small-scale brewing has been surging. Part of that dramatic increase occurred during the ’90s, a decade that also saw the import share of the beer market double, from 5 percent to 10 percent. Americans had been drinking the same mass market American lagers since prohibition, and the resurgence of craft beer brought with it an expansion of America’s taste for different brews — exotic ones, you might say.
But, specialty imports aside, much the growing preference for mass market imports seems to be advertisement-based. Just as PBR is a $44 delicacy in China, imports feel unique in America. Getting sushi? I’m feeling a Kirin. Tacos at the beach? Make it a Tecate. Stella Artois, produced by AB InBev, goes out of its way to be served in fancy glass stemware. But evaluated out of the packaging, which is what our tournament is all about, our blind tasters couldn’t distinguish a Japanese lager from a Mexican lager. Take what you will from that, and from our other results.
First Four Out
After Corona Extra (1) beat Sapporo (8), the tasters were shocked. They all agreed that had they been given the option, they would have ordered Sapporo over its Mexican counterpart, feeling it was the more unique option. Heineken (2) beat Newcastle Brown Ale (7), which was promptly described by one of our aficionado’s as having a “stale biscuity maltyness”—a blind review that may have been an early draft of their actual slogan. In the other match-ups, Guinness (5) easily beat Stella Artois (4) and Labatt Blue (6) swept Modelo Especial (3).
A shout-out and hearty “Sorry!” goes out to Canada’s Labatt Blue (6). Popular among northern hockey players, this copper lager was in the midst of a convincing run for the elite eight when it lost by one vote to Heineken (2). The differing voter, Zach Mack, made a persuasive case for Labatt over Heineken, which the other voters agreed with, but the votes were already cast. Unfortunately for Corona Extra (1), which took on Guinness (5) in the other match-up, nothing seems comparable to the Irish stout.
In the first round of the import division, when Corona Extra beat Sapporo, all of our tasters were extremely surprised that they had tasted Corona. This is because, instead of a clear glass bottle, we used a canned tall boy of Corona Extra for the tasting. Clear glass lets in a lot of light, and when UV light strikes the isomerized alpha acids that hops bring to beer, a skunky taste is produced (the chemical reaction literally produces some of the same compounds that skunks spray). The relatively low amount of hops used in Corona Extra, coupled with the lime it is sometimes served with, means the skunk flavor is mostly covered up.
Miller High Life, which is also served in a clear bottle, has a slightly different approach to the skunking problem. Wanting to keep the clear bottle for aesthetic and financial reasons, the Miller company opted to use a chemically modified form of hops’ alpha acids to bitter their beer. The altered acids don’t produce the stinky 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol when struck by light, and therefore won’t skunk.
Final Four Berth
The judges for this division were Zach Mack, a cicerone in training from Alphabet City Beer Co., K.B. Gould, the unofficial official alcohol guy at GP and Chris Wright, who insists he has a craft beer gut. With this in mind, it wasn’t really surprising that Guinness (5), the darkest beer in the tournament, came out on top. The “uninspired malty backbone” of Heineken (2) couldn’t hold up when it was compared to the creamy — almost milk-shake-like — stout.
Note: We tested the canned Guinness Draught instead of the bottled Extra Stout to keep Guinness’ taste a bit closer to the other beers being judged and to better replicate what you’d typically find in bar.
Of the 8 Olympiads hailing from 7 countries in 3 different continents, Guinness wasn’t met with a single dissenting vote…but can it beat Sam Adams Boston Lager? On Friday, the tournament champion will be revealed.