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Background: Given the association between alcohol consumption and negative health consequences, there is a need for individuals to be aware of their consumption of ethanol, which requires knowledge of serving sizes and alcoholic strength. This study is one of the first to systematically investigate the ability to discriminate alcoholic strength by taste.
Methods: Nine discrimination tests (total n=413) according to International Standardization Organization (ISO) 4120 sensory analysis methodology “triangle test” were performed.
Results: A perceptible difference was found for vodka in orange juice (0.0 vs. 0.5% vol; 0 vs. 1% vol), pilsner and wheat beer (0.5 vs. 5% vol), and vodka in orange juice (5 vs. 10% vol, 20 vs. 30% vol, and 30 vs. 40% vol). The percentage of the population perceiving a difference between the beverages varied between 36 and 73%. Alcoholic strength (higher vs. lower) was correctly assigned in only 4 of the 7 trials at a significant level, with 30 to 66% of the trial groups assigning the correct strength. For the trials that included beverages above 40% vol (vodka unmixed, 40 vs. 50% vol and vodka in orange juice, 40 vs. 50% vol), testers could neither perceive a difference between the samples nor assign correct alcoholic strength.
Conclusions: Discrimination of alcoholic strength by taste was possible to a limited degree in a window of intermediate alcoholic strengths, but not at higher concentrations. This result is especially relevant for drinkers of unlabeled, over-proof unrecorded alcoholic beverages who would potentially ingest more alcohol than if they were to ingest commercial alcohol. Our study provides strong evidence for the strict implementation and enforcement of labeling requirements for all alcoholic beverages to allow informed decision making by consumers.