Dec 11, 2006

Have a Little Balsamic with Your Beer

A recent post on Beer Advocate alerted me to a study published by an MIT alum reporting on the effects of expectation on beer drinkers' percepton of taste. Translation: telling people you put balsamic vinegar in their beer makes them think it's icky.

This may not come as a surprise to most of us, but the study implies another conclusion. Because everyone experiences taste differently—be it balsamic or bananas or booze—it is tough to really classify quality.

I was once again reminded of this on Sunday morning, while watching a football game at a bar with friends. M. sat down with her full pint of lager, and immediately grimaced upon taking that first refreshing sip. "Does this taste right to you?" she asked. I took a sip myself and responded with a resounding NO. It tastes like corn. But M. insisted the typical adjunct-laden flavor of Miller Light wasn't what she was referring to. Rather, she detected a slightly sour taste.

So, trying to remain the professional that I am, I swallowed another sip. Sure enough, once I got past my own prejudice against macro lite beers, I noticed the sour taste she was referring to. I couldn't help but laugh at the idea that a soapy glass was less offensive to my sensibilities than a corn-based brew.

I don't recount this simply to draw attention to my snobbiness (I don't begrudge anyone their desire for a low-calorie beverage), but to point out that the next time you decide you do or don't like a particular beer style, try it first and let your taste buds make the actual decision for you.

Influence of Expectation, Consumption & Revelation on Preferences for Beer (PDF download of study)
Knowing the Ingredients Can Change the Taste (NY Times article)

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