Putting Carlton Draught’s beer-fed wagyu beef to the test

by Forager on May 12, 2011

When I was researching about artificial meat, I came across the work of Emeritus Professor Jeff Wood at the University of Bristol, a “meat expert” whose research on meat quality involves extensive taste testing of meat. That’s right – scientific research requiring consumption of steak. Is that my dream job? I have a serious bone to pick with my high school careers councillor. I immediately romanticised the task and through the Vaseline-smeared window to my imagination, imagined Professor Wood and his research team, complete with white lab coats on a fine dining restaurant crawl, discerningly tasting and approving the meat served.

But I’ve clearly confused the scientist for a food critic. In all seriousness, Professor Wood’s work attempts to create standards in objective meat quality appreciation and comparison – much like the established systems and vernacular already present for wine tasting. Far from my romanticised view of fine dining establishments, Professor Wood’s lab is a test kitchen where samples of beef are prepared uniformly to scientific precision and then assessed using accepted descriptive terms for texture like “crunchiness”, “sponginess” and descriptive taste terms like “grassiness”, “milky” and disturbingly, even “cardboard“! Despite the reality evoking  unappealing memories of the cold, sterile kitchen in my high school home economics classes, I still found myself captivated and intrigued by the idea of taste-testing meat.

Cue a very timely email from Carlton United Brewery who contacted me about their Carlton Draught Massive Meat Wheel Competition, where 16 finalists were sent on a trip to London to take part in the Massive Meat Wheel at the EDF Energy London Eye where they competed for $100,000 in cash – and a meat tray! And the meat tray, my friends, is where things get interesting (not that $100,000 isn’t interesting mind you). Together with Jason Lewis of Jac Wagyu, Carlton Draught had been quietly spiking the regular feed of 20 wagyu cattle with hops and malted barley. A total of  2 tonnes of Carlton Draught Pride of Ringwood Hops and another 10 tonnes of Carlton Draught malted barley were handed over to the farmer for the sixty day feeding program costing a phenomenal $50,000 or equating to about $40 per day per cow. That’s more than what I usually spend to feed myself each day!

But perhaps the lucky cow was me as I was offered a tantalising sample of this intriguing limited edition beer-fed beef. Will the result be beef that tastes of beer? Having never actually tasted the famous beer-fed Kobe beef, I didn’t have a yardstick to compare against and was sceptical about whether the beef could really taste of beer. My Carlton Draught contact reported tasting the flavour of hops in the aftertaste of the beef, but, I’ll be the judge of that. Send in the $300 beer-fed wagyu meat tray!

Carlton Draught's beer-fed wagyu meat tray worth $300

Carlton Draught's beer-fed wagyu meat tray worth $300

The very impressive meat tray contained various vacuum-packed cuts of bright red, highly marbled meat. We identified cuts of what we thought were rump, sirloin and maybe even beef cheeks. But this meat tray contained some additional samples I’d specially requested – normal Jac Wagyu samples, that is, samples of wagyu beef from the same wagyu producer that have not been fed the “beer-diet”. These samples will be otherwise known to my taste testers simply as “control samples“.

Carlton Draught's beer-fed wagyu meat tray with regular Jac Wagyu control samples

Carlton Draught's beer-fed wagyu samples with regular Jac Wagyu control samples

The Field Experiment

The intriguing meat tray was revealed with a flourish at a convenient Easter family gathering, and the Co-pilot’s father, who usually holds barbequeing reigns at family gatherings, took much care to keep track of samples and individual cooking requests. The guests were told what samples they were getting and instructed to carefully taste and savour the flavours and try to discern whether they could detect the flavour of beer.

Field Experiment: barbequeing Carlton Draught's beer-fed wagyu steaks

Field Experiment: barbequeing Carlton Draught's beer-fed wagyu steaks and the Co-pilot's uncle gets ready to put the steak to the test

Grilled beer-fed wagyu steak paired with beetroot salad, broccolini salad and scalloped baked potatoes

Grilled beer-fed wagyu steak paired with beetroot salad, broccolini salad and scalloped baked potatoes

I can safely conclude that the meat tray was definitely savoured and very much enjoyed but as far as tasting goes – alas, this field experiment was always going to be process fraught with issues. With different people tasting different cuts, steaks cooked to different degrees and guests distracted by social banter, I put vague assertions of being able to taste beer flavours in the beef down to a placebo effect. This was not acceptable and more stringent controlled conditions were needed. Time for plan B.

The Test Lab

I set up a special controlled taste test in my laboratory home. Suspecting that the field experiment would be flawed I’d reserved two key samples from the meat tray: one beer-fed wagyu rump and one control wagyu rump.

Beer-fed wagyu test vs. normal Jac Wagyu control - spot the difference

Beer-fed wagyu test vs. normal Jac Wagyu control - spot the difference

To ensure there would be no placebo effect colouring the results, it was critical that the taste test would compare steaks:

  • of the same cut and size –  rump
  • from the same producer –  Jac Wagyu
  • produced under the same conditions except for the test variable –  all cattle were initially grass fed, then finished with either a grain supplement (control) or hops & malted barley spiked grain supplement (test)
  • seasoned the same way –  just salt, pepper and oil to rule out introduction of new flavour profiles
  • cooked to the same degree –  medium rare

And perhaps most crucially, I set this up as a blinded study – only I knew the true identity of these steaks. To mask the identity, I simply called them Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Novel, I know.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

The only thing missing from my test setup were the all important qualitative tasting score sheets. I assessed 4 different categories – look, smell, taste and texture. Preference of either A or B was requested for each category tested as well as overall sample preference. And of course – the million dollar question – identifying the sample that was beer-fed.

Seasoned and taste test ready steaks

Seasoned and taste test ready steaks

With the stage set, it was time to cue my guinea pigs! There was of course the Co-pilot as a ready and willing taste tester, but this time, joining him on the tasting panel were his two very trusting sisters, Phi & Liv.

As mentioned earlier, only I knew the identity of the samples, so to reduce any unfair influence on the samples, the Co-pilot cooked the unidentified samples using our perfect steak cooking technique, with a reduced searing time of 90 seconds on each side and 4 minutes in the oven to account for these slightly thinner steaks. They were then quartered and along with the tasting score sheet were served to the taste testers, identified only as Exhibit A and Exhibit B.

Cooking up the tasting samples

Cooking up the tasting samples with Exhibit A on top and Exhibit B on the bottom

Carlton Draught beer-fed wagyu taste test

Ready for the Carlton Draught beer-fed wagyu taste test

I decided identification of the beer-fed wagyu should be based on 2 perspectives – the assessment of the 4 forementioned categories of look, smell, taste and texture and also whether drinking beer itself enhances and amplifies the flavour of the beer-fed wagyu beef and allows for easier identification – much like the concept of wine bringing out the flavour of certain foods. So whilst I normally abhor it, there is a valid reason for the gratuitous product shot.

Carlton Draught - Under the influence of beer

Under the influence of beer

But I didn’t just force-feed my guinea pigs with beef. I ensured there were some accompaniments to keep things interesting – but strictly only to be consumed after the tasting was complete. We made a zucchini, pea, mint and feta salad inspired by our last visit to Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse, a potato salad (recipe here) and our favourite steak condiment – an Argentinian-inspired chimichurri with lots of freshly chopped parsley, red onion, garlic, jalapenos, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Now, everything was in place for the tasting to begin.

Carlton Draught taste test sides and sauces

There were accompanying sides and sauces to go with the consumption of beef. A Kingsley's inspired zucchini, pea, mint and feta salad; potato salad and Argentine-style chimichurri sauce

Unlike the field experiment, my taste testers took their task very seriously this time. Silence descended upon the room and chatter was replaced with thoughtful chewing and the scribble of pens. The tasting was unanimously observed to be much harder than first perceived. Although the samples provided to each taste tester was substantial and probably more than we’d eat under normal circumstances, in the name of rigorous science, we each tasted and re-tasted each exhibit very carefully, cleansed our palates with water and beer, and before we knew it, most of our tasting samples had disappeared.

Carlton Draught taste tester at work

Taste tester taking her task very seriously

And… drumroll… the tasting results are…

Carlton Draught beer-fed Wagyu taste-test results

Conclusions

So after the very rigorous testing of our samples, we all unanimously preferred the flavour of the sample that was revealed to be the beer-fed wagyu. When it came to picking the identity of the beer-fed wagyu sample, even when I exclude my own subjective test answers we found 2 tasters picked the right sample, one picked the control (since I knew the true identity of the samples, you could argue my answers were all placebo effect tainted, but hey, it’s not an exact science). Crucially though no-one reported definitively tasting any beer flavours.

So there you have it – our taste testing panel has concluded that feeding hops and malted barley to cattle does not result in beer-tasting beef. It may however result in a more flavourful beef steak, but further in-depth taste testing is required to answer this definitively. *nods sagely*

As for whether Carlton Draught have any plans on making this a new fledgling business? The answer was a resounding no – this was a costly experiment on their part, not financially sustainable and really, just for a bit of fun.

Speaking of which, I had a riotously good time putting together this experiment, chortling my way through the experiment set up, assembly and sampling (to the bemused tune of “nerd” yelled by the Co-pilot), so thank you Carlton Draught for the tasting opportunity. *sigh* If science was this fun – and tasty all the time – I might have stayed in the lab! But I know that I’m still romanticising the role of a taste tester. I have no doubt that in addition to tasty delights, professional taste testers most probably get asked to taste some fairly vile things. So really, getting to taste test tasty morsels of beef, whether beer flavoured or not is a much better job and I’m not complaining.

.

And for those concerned here’s a note from our sponsor: “Carlton Draught has gone to great lengths to oversee every step of this process and to ensure that processes were to industry standard. There was nothing inhumane about the way the cattle were reared and how they were slaughtered”.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reemski May 12, 2011 at 7:08 pm

I love your experiments!

2 Gaby May 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Excellent experiment! Funny that the co-pilot was the only one who thought exhibit B was more tender.
Gaby recently posted..Review- Fisherman’s WharfMy Profile

3 Co-Pilot's Dad May 13, 2011 at 8:21 pm

And thanks for both a fun read and a lovely meal!

4 Amanda May 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Whew, I’m exhausted from just reading about this. You certainly went to a great deal of trouble to set this up and I hope Carlton Draught appreciated the gravity with which you went about this scientific task. 😉

5 mademoiselle délicieuse May 16, 2011 at 12:56 am

Ahaha, you can take the girl science lab but…

Glad you had a great time taste-testing and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about its methodology and conclusion!
mademoiselle délicieuse recently posted..Mango Restaurant 不見不散My Profile

6 the ninja May 16, 2011 at 7:44 pm

I humbly proffer my corpus assassinatus for your next experiment. In the name of great and exalted science. I’m also happy to be lead researcher at your laboratory when you open it with the $100 000 which I “stumbled upon” in the vicinity of the Carlton Brewery. It’d only get spent on more missiles otherwise

7 Tina@foodboozeshoes May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Drunk (or at least tipsy) beef! Very interesting experiment, Trina – enjoyed muchly – thanks :)
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8 Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella May 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Haha great scientific approach to it. We liked it although I wished we had dried off the extra blood that had pooled in the bags first as it gave it a slight offaly flavour.

9 Tori (@eat-tori) May 17, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Sheer brilliance. Every step of this.
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10 Vivienne May 19, 2011 at 12:51 am

what a lucky cow indeed!!! sounds so much fun and reminds me of those high school science days! yea can’t imagine this financially sustainably with $40/cow/day. crazyyy.
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11 Toby May 23, 2011 at 10:30 am

See this related article..

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/beer-drinkers-saving-the-planet-20110522-1ez0v.html

perhaps less methane from those beer guzzling cows as well.

12 Sara (Belly Rumbles) May 24, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Great experiment was fantastic reading everyone’s thoughts.
Sara (Belly Rumbles) recently posted..KFC for breakfast anyoneMy Profile

13 Forager May 24, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Hey Reemski – Thanks! This one was a fun one. Can’t say the same for the real experiments I used to do..

Hey Gaby – I know, goes to show how varied and subjective tasting really is. Gotta take what you read/hear with a pinch of salt I think.

Hey Co-pilot’s Dad – Anytime! Thanks for being a willing guinea pig!

Hey Amanda – haha, I’m not sure they really expected more than a simple photo & post. I think I did this more for my own nerdy amusement really.

Hey mademoiselle delicieuse – haha, yeah, predictable aren’t I? But I did find it super interesting to test whether the beer flavour was really there at all.

Hey ninja – ok, I know where to find a willing recruit!

Hey Tina – I had someone ask seriously whether those poor cows were drunk and whether that was ethical! No, sadly not drunk. Just full of grains.

Hey Lorraine – Ew, that doesn’t sounds appetising at all! Thankfully ours smelled pretty good. No offal to report of.

Hey Tori – Thank you m’dear!

Hey Vivienne – I couldn’t believe those prices either! Astounding. They’re better fed than the average person!

Hey Toby – What a timely article! Thanks for the link! Drunk and saving the planet.

Hey Sara – Thanks Sara! Was a blast doing it – and my guinea pigs didn’t mind either.

14 Bonnibella May 26, 2011 at 9:45 am

You are very meticulous in your test taste, sounds like a grand ole time! When I read about the beer fed beef and I assumed the meat would have more fat but it looks similar to the regular beef.
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15 April @ My Food Trail May 31, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Haha, loved the experiment! It was so thorough! I would have totally been up for some wagyu taste testing! :)
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16 Forager June 7, 2011 at 10:34 am

Hey Bonnibella – Meticulous, yes – well – we had to ensure it was properly sampled!

Hey April – Yeah, I think my guinea pigs weren’t complaining!

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