I love to experiment in my winemaking, and that means being just as careful about judging the experimental wines and meads as it does about making them. In a controlled experiment, I’ll make at least two almost-identical batches. The only difference between them will be the object of the experiment. Details are important here because any other difference might affect the outcome.
Once you’ve made your experimental batches, and carefully controlled the differences to meaningfully test something, then you’ve got to determine how the batches differ. This sounds like the easy part, but there are all sorts of ways that human judgment can be biased. As the experimenter, your own preconceived ideas can creep in even if you have someone else bring you unmarked samples to taste. It could be that one just looks different than the other, and you’ll know which is which because you made them.
I’m getting ready to conclude an experiment that tests the effect of boiling on a mead, so I’ve been thinking about how to observe the differences in my experimental batches. Well, if my own preconceptions can skew the results, then I’ll want other people in on the testing. They’ll have to know enough about the experiment to give me useful feedback; I’m not interested in whether they prefer their mead at room temperature rather than chilled, for example. One of the claims made about boiling is that it drives off volatile compounds that are responsible for the aroma, so I’ll ask for feedback on the aroma. On the other hand, I can’t tell them so much that I influence their judgment.
So I decided to host a tasting party. There will be six of us, including me and the Lady of the House. All of us will taste, but none of us will know which one we’re tasting. I’ll tell them that they, “will be tasting two similar meads, and I’d like to know how they differ. I’m particularly interested in how the aroma differs from one to the other. I’d also like to know which one they’d rather drink, given the choice, and why.”
I’ll decant the two meads into identical containers, I recently bought two decanters just for this tasting party, and give them arbitrary labels. I’ll write down which label is the boiled mead and which is the no-boil mead, then leave the room. The Lady of the House will then come in and replace the labels with colored post-it notes. She’ll write down which color corresponds to which label. After all that, anyone can serve the mead and hand out colored index cards for everyone to write down their observations. None of us will know which one we’re tasting, but the Lady of the House and I will be able to sort it out afterwards.
I just need to pay attention to the details for a little while longer, then we’ll have a fun evening with friends and finally learn something about this boiling controversy!
Update 4/19/2010 – A simpler and easier way
Tasting blind lets you see a wine as it really is – some irony in that! – but this careful setup is a lot of work. Here’s an easier way to run a blind tasting that gives you most of the benefit with a lot less work. Its what I use to to compare a new wine to an old favorite.
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