Monday, 23 January 2012
The story of beer, our brains and our preconceived notions of flavour in the realms of psychology and drinking has always really interested me. It's something that I've written about in the past, as have others, but it keeps cropping up in my travels. It's something that has cropped up again because we've recently received a new beer at the shop, but has already sold out.
The beer came from Brooklyn Brewery, and cost £25 per bottle. Granted the bottle was 75cl, finished with elegance and a cork cage closure, and was very strong, but it was still £25 per bottle.
Say you stumped up the 25 squid for the bottle and took it home to open that night. When it comes time to open the beer, how much of what you paid for it actually comes into play when you taste the beer? Regardless of the taste do you try convince yourself it's a great beer? Even if the beer tastes awful do you tell yourself - "This beer cost £25! It must be good." How many of you would even think that before you even opened the bottle? Yes the beer could be good, it could just as easily be bad, or even not to your tastes but does your mind cover those factors up and play tricks with you to protect yourself from the fact you may have just wasted £25? Could you go so far as to even say your mind makes up a flavour for the beer? Possibly not... but how many times have you been drinking with someone, they tell you what a beer tastes like, and that's all you can taste for the rest of your drink...
You could try your own little experiment yourself. Give someone exactly the same beer in two different glasses blind. Tell them the first one cost £2 and the second one cost £10, I think it may be quite interesting to see what happens.
It can work in the opposite direction as well. If you have a preconceived notion (or thought) that a brewery or a beer is bad, would you ever truly enjoy anything from that brewery or that beer again? True, tastes can change and evolve, but our ingrained feelings can be stubborn as a mule. On the same hand, if everyone else told you that a beer tasted awful, how much of that would influence (or you would let influence) your finial verdict on the beer? Would you believe what everyone else tells you and bow into the peer pressure, or would you convince yourself that everyone else's opinion was your own and agree that the beer was bad?
In such a sense orientated and opinionated world do we ever have our own opinions at all, or do we just like to tell ourselves our opinions are our own? That being said, I'm enjoying asking questions tonight, it's what I do. I feel I'll ask a couple more.
No two beers are truly the same. (or are they?) If you tell yourself you're not a fan of lagers, is that because you've tried them all, or is that because you've convinced yourself that all lagers are bad?
I'm pretty sure a label can put thoughts into someone's head before they even try a beer. Let's say you have 'Beer Geek A' (BGA). Now BGA loves every beer he's ever had from Thornbridge, and actively seeks out their beers to try all he can. Thornbridge makes a new beer. How many of you will assume that before BGA even buys the beer, he'll assume it's awesome, and will tell everyone he knows it's awesome? I know I've been guilty of such things from time to time. If you have a brewery you love, can they ever make a bad beer in your eyes? And even if they do, do you still tell (and actually convince) yourself it's great?
What about review sites like RateBeer. Does the opinion of the 'mass beer geek' outweigh the thought process of the one?
How much can provenance come into play in these matters? After all, if you get told that a beer is much better from the source (over and over again) you'll believe it right? Even if most brewers will go to enormous lengths to make sure your beer reaches you in the same condition that it left the brewery, it's better from the tap surely... well, actually, there could be a little fact behind this.
A few other influencers which could have factual evidence behind, but people put forward as opinion, are as follows;
1. Bottle Size - People think beer from a bigger bottle tastes better, especially when it comes to bottle conditioned beers. There could be truth behind this, but truth people can't understand so they just take it as opinion.
2. Bottle Colour - I know quite a few people (respectable and not so much) who think green and clear glass is not the way to store beer, and immediately think a beer will be 'skunked' before even opening a green or clear bottle - without even giving it a chance! I have my own thoughts and feelings on the subject, and have carried out my own experiments, but at the end of the day, have no real scientific reasoning so my opinions are just that.
3. Glass shape - This is probably the point we can take the most fact about. It's true that the shape of your beer glass can influence the way you taste, smell and experience your beer. But if someone offers you a beer in the wrong glass, that's going to be in your head when it comes to tasting right?
Maybe when it comes right down to it, if you really want to truly experience a beer for exactly what it is, we need to do it blind, in a dark room with no-one else around.
But do we have to?
No, of course we don't, that would take all the fun out of the experience. Better to drink, socialise, and have our drink of choice with the people we love - and make up our own opinions about said beverage.
... or try to at least.