A chance conjunction of veteran root beer testers from out of town brought about a spontaneous call for assembly for Round Six of the Root Beer Showdown. The arrangements were hasty and somewhat tenuous, but eight researchers managed to make it to the laboratory on a rainy Saturday, August 25th, 2001.
With a large group of taste testers and a few new recruits, there were plenty of introductions when we all first arrived. As for the flavor introductions, four new unopened and untested bottles from the root beer cabinet awaited us, most portentious of which were:
Dave & Buster's Philly Root Beer. I had no idea that a video arcade would bottle their own root beer, but I saw a mention of the brand while trolling the web and thought I'd stop by the restaurant on my way home from work. Sure enough, you can get it at the bar, but its a bit expensive at $1.80 a bottle!
Winchester Homestyle Root Beer. Another unusual find. This huge 22 oz. bottle was discovered in one of those "global village"-style imported knick-knack shops in the foods section. Apparently its imported from the third-world land of California. The label on the bottle itself does not help explain much of the situation, with only a few words about the ingredients, and a badly drawn image of a bulldog wearing a hat. Quite mysterious. What would this stuff taste like?
The Root Beers Tasted:
When all were settled into their seats, the samples were brought forth one by one.
In keeping with the findings of the controlled audio experience we explored in Round 5, our sound engineer chose a series of LPs designed to produce a consistent mood. Within the first round of samples however, the reviewers forced a mutiny of his discordant and depressingly obtuse space sounds to something more upbeat, positive and "catchy." Back on track with more refreshing music, the researchers were once again able to concentrate on the flavors before them.
Once again, testing proceeded in an orderly fashion, pens and pencils scratching away in the hushed laboratory. But when the testing was complete and each tester discussed their findings, we found ourselves with much disagreement.
Round Six Results
When the testing was complete and the reviewers went round to share their opinions on each flavor, it became clear that there was quite a bit of disagreement on the brands involved in Round Six. Often these inconsistencies were simply a matter of personal taste. While one reviewer liked the strong wintergreen flavor of Spring Grove, another disliked the brew for that same reason. But other disagreements were less obviously deciphered. While one reviewer might have declared Winchester to be the best beer and most richly flavored, another decided that it was tasteless and awful. These illogical discrepancies or taste-test artefacts are often quite confusing and disheartening to the taste-testers.
After all discussion, the scores were tabulated.
Average scores across all categories:
Average scores in the category of "Overall Taste":
It is not yet clear why we some rounds of testing end in widespread agreement or widespread controversy. Round Six proved itself to be another strenous and controversial experience. This writer/taste tester was dismayed to discover that one flavor he had raved about wholeheartedly during the testing was revealed to be in fact the one brand he had decided to dislike due to its annoying advertising and packaging. The blind taste-test reveals flavor truths which are at times uncomfortable and humbling.
The tenuous and strained arrangements which allowed all eight researchers to gather on that Saturday initially seemed to suggest that perhaps the interest and taste-buds of the reviewers were becoming fatigued and that the Root Beer Showdown might be in danger of failing in its mission. However, after the test, many of the taste-testers once again pledged their commitment to continue the project with new-found resolve and enjoyment. We estimate there may yet be 6-10 root beer brands easily available within Chicago, and countless others available with more difficulty across the country. With time and luck and commitment, we'll taste them all.
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