By Leslie Gevirtz
NEW YORK, Aug 12 (Reuters) - European pale lager comes in a variety of brands but research shows that whatever the make of the beer, consumers find it difficult to taste the difference between them.
"Consumers are largely unable to distinguish between different brands of European lagers in blind tastings," researchers reported in the Journal of the American Association of Wine Economists.
In a series of blind tastings, economists Johan Almenberg and his wife Anna Dreber, of the Stockholm School of Economics, and Robin Goldstein, author of "The Beer Trials" and the upcoming book "Blind Taste," pitted Czechvar, which is sold in Europe under the brand name Budvar, Heineken and Stella Artois against each other to see if volunteers could tell them apart.
They presented three blind samples of the beer to 138 volunteers aged 21 to 70. Two of the samples were the same product and one was different. After tasting all of them, each volunteer was asked to select the one that was different from the other two.
The researchers found that the beer drinkers were unable to distinguish between the European lager beers and suggested that consumer loyalty was linked to marketing not flavor.
"I think basically what we're looking at is a commodity industry - the products are interchangeable," said Goldstein said in an interview.
"It also means that the beer industry has perfected pale lager beer, which is my favorite style of beer," he added.
Global brewers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, which makes Budweiser and Stella Artois, and Heineken have taken the world's most widely consumed style of beer, a brew that has been around since the 1500s and perfected it, according to Goldstein.
"They have a good product, a good manufacturing method and it can be sold at a good price," Goldstein explained. "So if you're in a bar and they don't have the lager you usually drink, have a different one. They will pretty taste much the same."
Sean Lewis, author of the book "We Make Beer," which will be published next month, said the finding was good news for beer lovers.
"It means they (the global brewers) are probably doing their jobs right if they all taste the same. They're aiming for a specific flavor profile and they've got it down at this point."
But although the taste has been perfected, the big beer companies have seen their sales go flat, or even decline, over the last few years in the United States. Last year in Germany beer sales slumped to a 25-year low.
Meanwhile, sales of craft beers have continued to rise and are estimated to reach $20 billion in 2014, according to the research firm Mintel.
The global players have been swallowing craft brewers hoping to shore up their bottom lines by capitalizing on the popularity of indie beers.
But not all craft beer drinkers are pleased.
"Craft breweries are like bands. They develop a fan base," said Lewis. "They like it for more than just the product itself, but for the stories behind the beer." (Editing by Patricia Reaney, Bernard Orr)