Jelly bean pic
What better place to test the authenticity of a beer flavor than a newsroom? So I took a bag of Jelly Belly‘s new beer-flavor jelly beans to the court of public opinion inside the Press Democrat offices.

The results were not encouraging.

“It tastes like the morning after the night before,” said Cathy Barnett, our executive editor. “It’s like college … it’s like being back in college and nobody cleaned the restroom.”

“The first wave of flavor, it was a little Budweisery then after that it was just sugary,” police reporter Jamie Hansen said. “It was like stale Budweiser.”

“I don’t get any beer,” editor Brett Wilkinson said, chewing on the bean. “It tastes like a glass that had beer in it and has been sitting out.”

And so on.

Nineteen of my colleagues were brave enough to to try the challenge. Reactions largely ranged from “meh” to “yuck.”

“It tastes like Bud Light,” editor Ted Appel said. “Then it goes to jellybean. Unusual.”

“One is fine,” he added, declining my offer of more.

“I taste a little beer when it first hits my mouth, then it goes to pure sugar,” digital developer Tom Chadsey said after chewing thoughtfully for a moment. “I would like to see the beer carried throughout the chew process.”

A handful of hearty souls dissented, saying they rather liked the beans.

“Smooth. Like a classy bar,” Digital Director Greg Retsinas said. “I could sit and munch on these for a while.”

“Sure, I’ll take another one,” Online Producer Crissi Langwell said after her first sample, though she grew concerned as some of her colleagues snickered as she reached for another. “Is there something gross in these?”

I assured her they were not a trick, and certainly not intentionally gross.

“I’m not a huge beer drinker, though,” Crissi explained, “but if I were a huge beer drinker, I’d probably be like Mmm, it’s not like beer. But because I’m not, I’m like, yeah, I could eat these.”

Jelly Belly released the beans in January to generally negative reviews. Some critics were worried about marketing beer flavor in a non-alcoholic confection available to kids. Others simply didn’t like the taste: the beans “taste like bad beer,” BusinessWeek concluded.

Jelly Belly declines to say exactly what is in the bean or what its inspiration may be (but Budweiser’s Northern California plant is just a few hundred yards down the road from the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield. You do the math).

From Jelly Belly's official release press kit.

From Jelly Belly’s official release press kit.

“This took about three years to perfect,” Ambrose Lee, research and development manager for Jelly Belly, said in a release announcing the new flavor. “The recipe includes top secret ingredients, but I can tell you it contains no alcohol.”

My own review? They’re weird. The smell is strange and astringent, the flavor is sugary on the front and oddly acrid on the back end. It is somewhat like beer, but it has that distinctive wet-cardboard thing that old, flat stale beer, particularly of the cheap mass market variety, gets after a while. It pains me to say it, since I am nearly as passionate in my love of Jelly Belly jelly beans as I am about beer, but this is just not a good jelly bean.

Intrepid newsroom researcher and data analyst Janet Balicki had the strongest reaction: “It smells horrible. I don’t think I can eat this. It smells like vomit.” After being induced to actually taste a bean, she added “It tastes so disgusting. Wow. No thanks.”

Reporter Mary Callahan was less savage, but was not fond of the beans either. But she suggested that it might not be entirely Jelly Belly’s fault.

“I think it’s just ridiculous to even begin to try to make candy that tastes like beer,” she said. “Beer is its own special, fantastical creation.”
– Sean Scully