Intense Beer for Adolescents?

Tents
Tents by Stuart Heath, from Flickr under Creative Commons.

This week, academics at the University of Cambridge published research into how taste in music develops over the course of people’s lifetimes.

As teenagers, people desire ‘intensity’, according to Dr Jason Rentfrow:

Adolescents’ quest for independence often takes the shape of a juxtaposed stance to the perceived ‘status quo’, that of parents and the establishment. ‘Intense’ music, seen as aggressive, tense and characterised by loud, distorted sounds has the rebellious connotations that allow adolescents to stake a claim for the autonomy that is one of this period’s key ‘life challenges’.

In early adulthood, the research suggests, people begin to develop an appreciation of ‘contemporary’ and ‘mellow’ music as they seek not to stand out, but to fit in, and find intimacy with others.

Finally, in middle age, people become ‘sophisticated’, becoming keen on jazz and classical music; but, at the same time, seek something less ‘pretentious’ and so develop ‘an interest in country, folk and blues’.

The University’s press release also includes this statement:

The explosion in music consumption over the last century has made ‘what you listen to’ an important personality construct – as well as the root of many social and cultural tribes – and, for many people, their self-perception is closely associated with musical preference.

Increasingly, we think that is true of food and beer, too — for many, they are part of popular culture as much as they are refreshment or sustenance.

The success of Brewdog and ‘craft beer’ more generally in the UK is partly down to tapping a market among young people who might previously have rejected beer (mild-mannered, session-strength, subtle) outright.

The good news for more traditional brewers is that those young people are drinking beer and, in years to come, will likely put aside the brashness of Brewdog in favour of classical, unpretentious, folksy beer. (You can look back at 6+ years of our blog to see some evidence of this process taking place, though we’ve always been pretty fuddy-duddy.)

But what about when brands and brewers grow up and perhaps lose their rebellious image? In the world of music, the coolest band is usually one no-one over the age of 20 has even heard of.

26 thoughts on “Intense Beer for Adolescents?”

  1. I think you have to view this from the supply side. Rebellion is a fun and games when you are a kid but money is where the real fun is whether is marketing volume or faux prestige. Time was when you sorted a beer it was trashed. Now it triples the price. This too shall pass.

    1. Is it only me that hasn’t got a clue what this comment means? (I am an old fogey, so possibly I’m not meant to)

      1. Yikes! iPad autocorrect attack!! Sorted=soured. What I meant to convey was that it is as much the eras or ages of good beer production that cause these things as the ages of the drinker. Loud beers are made for the young because producers know they can manufacture that market.

  2. Hah, they’ll be putting the kids to bed in 10 years then sitting down with a glass of Shiraz. Beer will be something they avoid in fear of middle aged spread.

  3. I wonder what teenagers will listen to to rebel when their parents are making dinner to the mellow sounds of Raging Speedhorn?

    Just as I doubt I will ever voluntarily stay in a room in which Coldplay is audible, I doubt I will ever decide to prefer Bombardier to Brewdog.

    1. But (correct me if I’m wrong, and apologies in advance if I’m putting words in your mouth) you seem to be implying that people who enjoy those kinds of beer are being silly and should get over it; whereas I think what we’re trying to say in this post is that it’s natural to like ‘louder’ beers when you’re young (or at least just getting into beer), and that there’s nothing wrong with that.

      Or, as we put it on Twitter earlier today: ‘A lot of bickering in the world of beer geekery is “bloody daft kids” failing to empathise with “boring old bastards”, and vice versa.’

      1. I don’t think it’s silly. Loud beers have their time and place and, as I say in the above linked post, I can enjoy them as much as I can enjoy a loud, CGI heave, dumb Hollywood blockbuster film when I feel in the right mood.

        What is silly, though, is to believe that those are the only beers really worth drinking (or should I say, tasting)?

        1. We should recall also that loud beers have only had any sort of pop existence for less than ten years. Guinness in a can shows up around 1991 and was the rad thing when I was pushing 30. That was what cool people drank. So I wonder if you have described the arc of the lives of beer drinkers over time or just the current generation gap with its odd phenomenon of tail chasing by early entrants stoked by consulting drinks advisors seeking to carve a living out of making up a topic.

  4. This doesn’t work for me. My musical tastes have only altered slightly over the years and in my youth I found barley wine and Imperial Russian Stout almost undrinkable but I’m keen on them now.

    I suppose having been fortunate to discover Hawkwind early I’m unlikely to move on but don’t most people find more ‘extreme’ beer hard work at first? I thought the kids were drinking alcopops at first nowadays, and snakebite and black was the equivalent when I were a lad.

    1. There are two contradictory theories here: the one you’re proposing, which is that there is a style of music or beer or whatever, that attracts people in different age ranges and hence people tend to move through them as they age, or the one I would tend to go with, which is that people search around for a while, before eventually settling on a preferred style – and they might settle early, perhaps in their teens, or they might get to 60 and still not really be sure what they like.

    2. Most people find beer hard work at first – it’s much bitterer than anything you drink as a kid, and the first time you try beer you’ve generally still got a child’s complement of tastebuds, making the shock even more pronounced. If the beer that gets you over the hump is Punk IPA, you’re not going to have any trouble with relatively extreme tastes after that – particularly if extreme tastes are being marketed at you.

      I think a lot depends on what you’re expecting. I love old ales, strong milds and dubbels, and it took me a long time to get into pale’n’oppy beers; I remember describing one beer as tasting like grapefruit juice & meaning it as quite a harsh criticism (why on earth would anyone want beer to taste like that?). A couple of years after that I gave my wife, who doesn’t drink a lot of beer, a taste of Pictish Citra, warning her she might find it a bit extreme; she loved it, & very nearly took the glass off me.

  5. I must’ve been middle aged before my time liking jazz,folk in my teens and mild!
    I’ll be listening to the artic monkeys and drinking triple hopped ipa’s just to be rebellious soon 🙂

    1. Prog -> folk -> experimental -> punk -> post-punk -> baggy -> electro -> singer-songwriter -> folk

      Cider -> real ale -> real ale -> real ale -> malt whisky -> Belgian beers -> Red Stripe -> real ale -> real ale.

      Not sure what that tells you, except that I’m quite fond of real ale. (The “electro and Red Stripe” phase was in my mid-30s, incidentally.)

  6. some sweeping generilisations both on the music and beer. hitting middle age and mellowing and listining to jazz ,jazz isn’t just Glen Miller it can get very edgy and avant garde ..Eric Dolphy,Sonny Sharrock.Coltrane etc Folk is going through a rennaissance at the moment with lots of nu folk artists – so much so its ebber trendy.
    I don’t intentionally try and make a statement via the beers i consume. i drink them because i like them, wether those styles are in vogue or not doesn’t interest/bother me.

    1. Reminded of that story George Martin tells about trying to get John Lennon to listen to Ravel: he didn’t like it because, by the end of the tune, he’d forgotten how it started.

      1. Pete Townshend was capable of listening to Purcell at the instance of Kit Lambert (son of composer and conductor Constant Lambert) and one result was the way the chord pattern works in the opening to Pinball Wizard.

        But then too, one can’t generalize, indeed. If you were coming to age in the early 70’s for music you would have been invited to like soft rock and James Taylor. Yet Beethoven and Wagner can be pretty loud and raucous and well-heeled adults are considered connoisseurs of symphonic music, generally anyway.

        The theory works to a degree for R&B, rock and electric blues, but it doesn’t work for acoustic Delta blues (quiet and plaintive a lot of it was)…

        Gary

        1. Never sure why people object to generalising — very hard to discuss social movements and trends without it!

          I guess it might be a problem if the conclusion of your generalisation is ‘…and so they should all be killed.’

  7. I must have been prematurely middle-aged, because I loved Eric Dolphy, Thelonous Monk, Albert Ayler and the rest when I was 17. AND Stravinsky. AND Steve Reich. Oh dear. Mind, it took me a long time to learn to appreciate Frank Sinatra. On the other hand, I still listen to Cream. And I still drink boring brown bitter, as well as, now, American IPAs.

  8. What this comment thread suggests is that the kind of oddballs who blog about and otherwise obsess over beer would have been discounted as outliers in this study.

  9. My personal opinion is that the study is a load of methodologically incompetent, unscientific bollocks and if I bump into Dr Jason Rentfrew around Cambridge I will tell him so.

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