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Generalisations about beer culture opinion

The impossibility of objective tasting

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This is by way of a summary of some thoughts we’ve had in the last year or so, backed up with links to some posts we’ve enjoyed elsewhere on related topics.

1. People’s palates work in different ways, as Wilson at Brewvana points out. For example, Boak’s is calibrated in such a way that anymore than the merest hint of salt in a meal renders it inedible, but she can handle almost as much chili heat as you care to throw at her.

2. Tastes evolve over time. Everyone knows the theory that you become more tolerant of bitter flavours as you enter your twenties. In the case of beer, there’s a similar theory (“Lupulin Threshold Shift“) which suggests we become more tolerant of the presence of hops the more we’re exposed to them, so a beer which tasted crazily hoppy two years ago when you first had it might not seem quite so extreme today.

3. Branding, marketing and other cultural prejudices influence our thinking. The only path to true wisdom is through blind taste testing, and that can really surprise you, as Lars discovered.

4. Context is all important. As long as it’s of reasonably good quality, the first beer you drink on holiday will taste pretty amazing. In fact, scratch the opening caveat: we always enjoy our first Cruzcampo on holiday in Spain, and it’s of very poor quality indeed.

5 replies on “The impossibility of objective tasting”

For me it’s the first mythos whenever I go to greece – it’s not the best beer in the world but a clod pint in the hot sun is heaven!

And the lupulin theory is interesting – I think it’s true though and the more hops you get the more you want (just like the way you tolerate spicier and spicier foods)

There’s been tons of research on this.

An interesting summary of ways to change your sense of taste and smell:
http://www.rd.com/living-healthy/sharpen-your-sense-of-smell-and-taste/article16097.html

Here’s a guy who did research in the early 1900s on how to improve sense by practice, with some odd results with regard to taste:
http://www.enter.net/~torve/critics/Renshaw/notassmart/notassmart1.html

There’s also that “miracle” fruit that severely affects the ability to taste sour things; there’s the idea that some people are “super tasters” and others are “under tasters:”
http://www.wordspy.com/words/supertaster.asp
http://www.afic.org/Taste%20Matters.htm

and to complicate matters further, there are flavors that some people simply can’t detect:
http://blogs.menupages.com/chicago/2008/06/peppery_tastes_elude_20_percen.html

It seems like people judging wine have it no easier, if that’s any consolation.

As for getting used to hops, I’m not sure. The first time I tested a really hoppy beer (Stone Ruination IPA) I was quite apprehensive about the over-100 IBUs. But it turned out to be no problem at all. I can’t recall ever finding a beer too bitter for my taste, so I doubt I’ve pushed the envelope here. My girlfriend has never liked bitter beers, despite trying many over the years. So I don’t know about this.

Ethan – thanks! Some great links there. I like the article on sharpening your sense of smell although I note that the good doctor suggests that any more than one beer will impact on your ability to smell anyway…

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