An idea has been floating around that has me scratching my head a bit but also wondering what we mean by "better" sometimes. Today, Jeff Alworth wrote "Do Women Taste Better Than Men?" after reading Melissa Cole's link to an article in The Sun included in her post entitled "Women Better Beer Tasters". It got me wondering because I thought a bit of idea creep was going on.
It appears pretty well established that there are non-tasters, moderate tasters and supertasters in both genders, with a rough 25-50-25 ratio across the population. Tasting perception changes with age. It is also affected by personality and dietary experience. It differs in gender with 35% of Caucasian women being supertasters compared to 15% of Caucasian men. And Caucasians have a lower percentage of supertasters than Asians, according to The Independent from the UK.
There are plenty of variables on the go but at its most basic, supertasting is about intensity of perception. Here is a description of a supertasting woman's experience of beer:
"I can't stand cake," says Michelle Triplett, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mom and supertaster from Olympia, Wash., who spoke, coincidentally, on her birthday. "It's too sweet for me. And when I drink beer, I gag. It's like drinking urine."
Mmmm... urine. Is that better taste perception, simply greater sensitivity or a greater appreciation for beer? Depends on what you are looking for, I suppose. If you are looking for someone to detect an off putting bitterness as a means to diagnose brewing errors - like a canary in a coal mine - go for a supertaster. If you like your supertasters Caucasian, well, that means you are more likely looking for a female supertaster given they represent 70% of the category. It might not be the case with other ethnicities and, even with that, 65% of the Caucasian female population are not supertasters. They are just like 85% of the paler men. But if you are looking to find out what most people want, scientists looking into the perceptions of bitterness in beer sometimes aim at a moderate tasters as they can give a "better prediction than the overall data"... whatever that means.
So, is intensity of perception all there is to tasting? Is a super taster going to tell you what DIPA or blackened imperial stout is more balanced? Maybe not. Maybe for that you want other skills, too - other tasters more representative of the general population or that part of your population that you are aiming to serve. Is that the idea creep? Is there a big difference between being a better taster of beer and the taste of better beer? Could be. One may involve what seems like a mouthful of piss. But that might be the thing we need experienced and reported upon along our way to a better tasting glass of beer.