DETROIT — Could it be that Bud's been dethroned as the King of Beers? That Miller's time has come and gone?
That's what 17 trained beer tasters suggest in June's Consumer Reports magazine. Their choice for the best-tasting mass-marketed brew is that blue-collar bargain of the beer cooler, Old Milwaukee.
It was followed by Stroh's, another cheap and minimally advertised brand, which like Old Milwaukee is manufactured by Detroit's Stroh Brewery Co. Better than Budweiser, Michelob, Miller High Life and nine other national brands.
"You're kidding me," said Sandra Schaeffer, who was tending bar Thursday at Duggan's Irish Pub in suburban Detroit. "I'm really surprised.
"We keep Stroh's on hand for some of our favorite customers. Old Milwaukee we don't sell at all. We don't get a lot of requests for it."
Old Milwaukee and Stroh's are not huge sellers compared with their heavily promoted, big-name competitors.
Old Milwaukee ranked No. 11 in sales nationally last year, while Stroh's didn't even make the top 25, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, an industry newsletter.
Duggan's customer Bill Hielscher, who favors Canadian brews, said he drank a lot of Old Milwaukee in college because it was cheap.
But he stays away from Stroh's, which he described as a "lower end" type of beer.
"I like to drink beer," he said. "I'll pretty much drink anything. But there are some things I really don't like, and one of them is Stroh's."
So much for hometown beer loyalty.
The folks at Stroh, the nation's fourth-largest brewer, insist they weren't surprised at the findings.
"We're extremely pleased to be recognized for outstanding quality," spokeswoman Lacy Logan said. "But it's something we've known for some time."
Logan said beer drinkers sometimes mistakenly believe the cost of a brew reflects its quality.
"In reality, much of that added cost goes toward the marketing and advertising, rather than into the can," she said.
Consumer Reports rated beers in five other categories, including imports, nonalcoholic brands and low-calorie beers.
Among imports, Molson Golden ranked at the top, followed by Labatt Blue--both Canadian lagers.
Consumer Reports, which doesn't accept advertising, is better known for its staff and reader ratings of cars, refrigerators and lawn mowers.
This was its first foray into beer, which is why it hired professional brew masters and brewing students to do the blind tastings.
"Beer is a very complex product," magazine spokeswoman Rana Arons said. "We thought that a panel of real experts would really serve the consumer better."
They tested each beer five times, using samples bought at stores across the country. They assessed 30 beer qualities and defects that were mapped on numerical scales. All seemingly very scientific.
But some say beer tastings are always subjective.
"We don't put a lot of stock in taste tests," said Benj Steinman of Beer Marketer's Insights.
"They're still just individual people's opinions."