Its a big pet peeve of mine for people to blindly do experiments without doing any basic research to see if anything like this has been done.
Thanks for taking the time to respond in so much depth, Kristen. I did search for previous research in this area (I have access to a couple of the academic databases) and found some good papers, but they all dealt specifically with lagers, and none of them involved a large blind tasting. I'm sure those papers exist too and I simply don't have access to them, but I think it's important to keep in mind that most home brewers don't have access to any of the literature at all.
I'd like to respond to a few specific points. For the rest I'll defer to your superior knowledge and experience, and simply plead that I was working within the limitations of some very basic equipment.
- Experimental controls - Three beers are needed. An underpitch, an over pitch and a 'correct' pitch. Two beers doesn't give enough variables.
I'm not sure why that would be the case. Is an experiment that has one control and one experimental group inherently invalid? I do have *some* training in conducting a controlled experiment and I've never come across a statement like that.
- OG - Its just too high. What would be a yeast pitch rate experiment to one has change, instantly, to a yeast pitch rate of high gravity beers...unless you wanted to do a high gravity experiment but I didn't read that.
The OG was targeted to be at the high end of what White Labs and Wyeast say is "pitchable" for their standard (home brewer) products. Both manufacturers say a starter is only needed for OGs above 1.060.
- Open fermentation and headspace - It wasn't clear to me if this experiment was done fermenting 'open' in buckets or in buckets with a lid. If they were closed the head space was absolutely massive which could skew the experiment. Books have been written on 'fermenter-head space' specifics.
The fermenters were sealed and you're right, the head space is massive. Perhaps not ideal, but at least consistent between the two fermentations.
- Summary of the summary - Using a starter makes better beer. This had absolutely nothing to do with the actual experiment.
That's snarky and unscientific and maybe even inappropriate, but it actually does speak directly to what the experiment is designed to assess - do home brewers prefer beers pitched at a standard rate, or at the pitching rate associated with using a smack pack directly?
Point short, there is nothing I can ascertain from the data presented. There are too many holes for even the smallest assumption to be made.
I am disappointed to hear that you think that, since I respect and value your opinion. I guess all I can say is that I feel I learned some things as a result, and that those with a higher standard for proof will have to conduct their own experiments, or rely on the peer-reviewed literature.