Can You Hear a Good Beer?

ear beer

The beer world has many ways to identify drinking “experts,” from BJCP or Cicerone certifications to some guy in Denmark who tastes thousands of beers a year. But the best part is no matter what your official qualifications may be, we all have some level of knowledge when it comes to tasting beer, even if our interest is solely left at that.

Last week offered a great conversation, as always, on the Beervana podcast, when Jeff Alworth and Patrick Emerson discussed the idea and process of how to taste beer. Through a blind taste test, the pair broke down how sight, smell and taste can impart characteristics of beer and how it can lead our own interpretation of the liquid.

But are those senses all we need to fully judge a beer?

In the 1930s, marketing pioneer Louis Cheskin coined the phrase “sensation transference” as a way to describe the phenomena of when a consumer has a unique reaction to a product based on an interpretation with their senses. For example, the more yellow the color of a 7UP package, the more lemon-like the soda may taste.

Naturally, sight and smell are powerful forces driving this idea, but in truth, all our senses play a part, even hearing. Think of the snap of a crisp potato chip or apple and how that plays into our perception of quality and freshness. Sound, just like other senses, has the ability to not only alter our preferences, but change a tasting experience altogether.

So if and when sound comes into play, is it impacting our perception of a beer or simply playing to our inherent biases?

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Your Glassware Did What? A Sensory Experiment of Time and Temperature

mad scientistBeer may be my passion, but in recent months, I’ve come to learn that a beer can sometimes only be as good as the vessel in which you enjoy it.

A shaker pint glass does the trick in a pinch, but when it truly comes to experiencing a beer to the highest degree, it’s important to consider what you pull from your cupboard. While I’ve shared my thoughts previously on the importance of glassware, I’ve was recently presented a serendipitous experience to explore how the method of drinking our beer impacts our senses.

And honestly, I think this latest experiment offers a rather curious take on the matter.

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Brew EDU: What is ‘Natural Flavoring’ in Beer and Why Use It?

brew edu_bookworm_beer

I spend thinking a lot about beer, which often leads me to questions about processes like brewing, selling or packaging the product. As I try to learn more, I figured it would be fun to share. So … “Brew EDU.” Are you curious about something? Contact me on Twitter. Let’s get nerdy…

Chances are, you’ve seen it on bottles in your favorite beer shop: “brewed with natural flavoring.”

But what does it mean?

A variety of things, really … But this is not one of those “can you believe what’s in your beer!?1?” kind of posts.

I became interested in the idea of natural flavoring thanks to the growing popularity of “crafty” beers that are thriving using these various products, whatever they may be. Blue Moon, American’s most popular beer, uses natural flavoring. So does Leinenkugel’s line of shandies, which was one of the fastest growing segment of beers in 2013.

But Big Beer isn’t the only group using natural flavoring, as you can find it in beers from Sam Adams, Shipyard, Rogue and many other craft breweries across the country.

So why natural flavoring? Because it’s easy.
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BeerHavior: Rankings, Biases and our Changing Palate

morpheus_beer_ipa_stout_ratebeerYou can check out part two of this series about the geography of the top-20 RateBeer beers here and part three on what the “bottom” best beers tell us about the top, here.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been looking through data from RateBeer.com, which releases a “best beers in the world” list each year. RateBeer has a full archive dating back to 2006, so I wanted to map out what I thought would showcase changes in behavior pertaining to beer.

My general thought? We’d see more variety not only in beer, but especially in the strength of top-ranked brews. On that front, I found myself to be both right and wrong.

First, a note about RateBeer’s rankings – they are incredibly consistent. From 2006 to 2013, the “best beers” are heavily skewed toward rare beers that are often imperial stouts. Why do these particular beers rank so well?

One reason is selection bias – not everyone can get a Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, so there are fewer ratings of that beer than Bells Hopslam, which typically performs well and is available across the country every year. The fewer ratings a beer has, the greater chance it has of compiling top scores. That’s because…

… there’s also motivational and cognitive bias. Beer nerds are famous for riding the hype train, which pushes beers like Dark Lord to holy heights. If, by chance, we are lucky enough to get a bottle, the sheer magnitude of the occasion has the ability to skew our judgment. We expect a beer to be amazing, therefore it’s more likely to be amazing once we have it.

ratebeer_beer_bottlecapSure, every person is a special snowflake, but these are general guidelines to keep in mind. It should come as no surprise that of the top-20 “best beers” from 2013’s list, 11 currently reside on the “most wanted” list of the site. (It should also be noted that these beers are also likely to taste great)

All that said, my methodology – for sake of time and effort – was to look at the top-20 of each year’s best beers, as rated by RateBeer users. The top-10 didn’t offer enough variety, so I simply doubled it up. You can see a full list of the beers here.

But enough about all that. Let’s do the numbers…
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