Last week, a group of beer drinkers filed a class action lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch InBev, claiming that the brewing giant had "watered down" its blockbuster beers Budweiser and Michelob to save money. Anheuser-Busch responded by taking out full-page ads in 10 major newspapers disputing the claim. NPR backed the company up by testing the beers for alcohol content and finding they were just as strong as the packaging said they were.
But that got us thinking: What did the plaintiffs really mean by "watered down"? Alcohol content may be the central issue in court -- whether Anheuser-Busch labeling has misled customers about the beers' alcohol content and run afoul of truth-in-advertising laws. But for beer drinkers, taste seems just as important.
To find out whether the average drinker would be able to tell if Anheuser-Busch were watering down its beer, we decided to conduct a little experiment. We mixed cans of Budweiser with amounts of seltzer ranging from zero to three ounces, to "water down" the beer without compromising carbonation, and then had 10 HuffPost staffers (including the author of this post) taste the beverages to see if they could determine which had been the most diluted.
And the results? We pretty much couldn't tell when the Bud had been watered down.
The tasters ranked the seven samples of beer from least watered-down to most, and they failed miserably.
Only two of the 10 tasters correctly identified the beer with no seltzer in it -- which isn't much better than the group would have done if they'd been picking a beer at random. Two other tasters said they thought the most diluted beer, the one that was 20 percent seltzer, was the least diluted one.
The average ranking assigned to each beer loosely correlated with its level of dilution: The tasters could broadly tell which beers tended to be more diluted. But when it came to putting the drinks in order, they didn't do very well. In other words, they thought that undiluted beer was more diluted than it was and that diluted beer was less diluted than it was. The average taster was off in his or her rankings of the beers by 1.7 spaces in either direction; you'd expect someone picking at random to be off by about 2.3 places, so the tasters didn't do much better.
Of course, 10 people isn't exactly a statistically significant sample, so it's possible that HuffPost staffers are unusually bad at recognizing watered-down Bud. And our test has no bearing whatsoever on whether Anheuser-Busch is actually watering down its beer.
But our test suggests that if the company were to start watering down its beer, we might not notice until we were 10 drinks in and still not drunk. No wonder sales of Bud and Michelob haven't dropped since news of the lawsuit hit.