Taste Test Challenge

My wife and I stopped at the local liquor store for a bottle of wine yesterday for an event today (since we can’t buy alcohol on Sundays). At the tasting table was a young woman giving rum samples of a particular brand. She asked if I wanted to try it with pineapple juice or whether I wanted to be part of an “experiment,” where I could compare their rum against another well-known rum to determine which tastes best. I’m not able to resist an experiment, so I chose the latter.

“Try this one first,” she said, handing me a tiny plastic cup. “Now this one.”

I declared the first one more “confrontational,” and the second, “thicker, smoother.”

“I prefer the first,” I decided.

“That’s the competitor’s rum,” she told me.

I was thinking about it afterwards, wondering whether everything in the test could be taken at face value–that is, the marketer believed that her rum would genuinely be preferred by a significant majority–or whether the experiment was designed to produce a specific result, as you would expect a marketing effort would.

Discounting genuine sabotage (say, watering down the competition), I wondered if the order mattered. My friends and I on occasion like to stop after work at a local pub for Irish whiskey. We’ve switched back and forth between more and less expensive brands and concluded that the best whiskey is invariably the second one you drink! Here, though, the quantities are too small for the first one to affect your judgment, so I don’t imagine that’s a factor in this taste test. Though maybe since straight rum is strong, the first one gives your palate a chance to adjust, making the second less jarring.

Or it could be that the marketer’s rum was sweeter, which was the advantage that Pepsi had over Coke in the Pepsi Challenge. However, it is possible that sweeter is only a short term advantage, and that over the course of an entire can of soda (or rum drink), too much sweetness can be cloying.

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