There’s a theory floating around that women are better wine tasters than men. From time to time, official-sounding studies are conducted that “prove” women have a more highly developed and sophisticated tasting apparatus than their male counterparts.
Some of the key research on this topic was done in the 1990s by Linda Bartoshuk at Yale Medical School. She found that humans had drastically different tasting abilities based on the number of tiny taste receptors in the tongue. While she classified the population as 25% super-tasters, 50% tasters and 25% non tasters, she also found that 35% of women were super-tasters (compared to 15% of the male population).
My own theory is that it has nothing to do with physiology. If women are in fact better wine tasters, I suspect the reason has to do with their ability to suspend judgment for a longer period; during this time, they seem more capable of taking in sensory clues and evaluating nuances in the wine, before they come to a final conclusion.
When it comes to beer, however, women clearly seem to have the edge. Men may consume three-quarters of the beer sold, but women appear to be more sensitive to variations in taste and flavor. At least, that’s what the world’s largest beer producers seem to think. For a mega-brewery, it’s vitally important to both avoid flaws and turn out a uniform product, and most of them employ panels of tasters to determine if they’re on the right track.
SABMiller in Britain, the co-owner of Miller Coors, has 1,000 advanced-level tasters working for them; while only 30% are women, the number of females has quadrupled in the past decade. Carlsberg denies that there’s any difference between the sexes, but admits that women outperformed men in a test of their tasting panelists this year. At Bluetongue Brewery, a new startup in Australia, it’s expected that the majority of tasters hired will be women. “Women typically are better able to detach a smell from the object,” head brewer Tim Williams was quoted as saying.
The difference between smell and taste is also important, since humans can only taste four different flavors (or five, if you include umami) but can smell thousands of different aromas. In beer tasting, unlike wine, the taster has to swallow, since (according to Williams) many of beer’s bitter characteristics can only be detected at the back of the throat. Perhaps as a result, there’s a point at which the scientific aspect aspect of the exercise fades. “Let’s be honest,” said Jason Pratt, a top taster for Miller Coors. “We are getting paid to drink beer.”