Friday, 6 November 2015

You think when you drink

Admittedly it may be an inverse relationship but bear with me. There's a lot going on in your head when you try a drink. Our senses are not objective instruments that operate independently from our brain. 
I think of this when I see my fellow beer nerds saying that the only important thing about beer is the taste. It commonly crops up when they're defending beer so murky it's impervious to light. Now there's no denying that taste is important in beer. And so of course is the fact it gets you pissed. But whether we like it or not our brains are involved in the tasting process and a number of factors will influence it.

How a beer looks is the most obvious one, and murk aside, the colour will usually prime you for what flavours to expect, and influence how you perceive them. For this reason in the tasting panel at work black glasses are used, and I know from experience that having the blind put into blind tasting really does make it harder. I was once slight embarrassed by how long it took me to work out that I'd been given bottled Guinness.

Some of my colleagues investigated how the power of suggestion can affect the flavour of beer in an neat little study. The tasting panel were given five beers to try and asked to pick for each the best flavour descriptors from list that was provided. The terms on the list had mainly come from flavour attributes stated on the labels of the beer. 

Later the tasting was repeated, only this time the list of flavour descriptors had recommended ones for each beer. It was pretty clear what they were up to at this point, but despite that it still worked. Like they way your eyes are drawn to the unwanted telly showing crap in a pub, the taste I perceived in a beer was drawn towards the suggestions. When the panel's results were totted up all of the beers had shifted considerably in the flavours recorded, most strikingly in one beer in which no one detected 'pepper' first time round but 12 out of 19 did when it was suggested. There's more to taste than you might think.


  1. I always try to avoid reading reviews/ label blurb of a beer before trying because that power o autosuggestion is very real. Aroma can also suggest descriptors for retronasal aroma and taste too...very difficult to isolate

    1. Same here, I write my own notes and only then go and look at others, partly to see if I've missed (or misidentified) anything. Sometimes someone else will have identified a faint hint that I'd been struggling to pin down, which is useful.

  2. Hmmm...I may have to give this not reading the label thing a go.