Generalisations about beer culture

The Enjoyability of Beer Vs. Expectation

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Is it possible to untangle the experience of drinking a beer from the expectation of how it will taste?

Here’s what we think are the spectrum of reactions to the experience of tasting beer without reference to expectation:

  • Instantly in top ten
  • Delightful
  • Enjoyable
  • Drinkable
  • “Meh”
  • Unpleasant
  • Un-drinkable
  • Disgusting

But we very rarely taste beers blind, and so, as well as their objective ‘enjoyability’, we also find ourselves assessing to what extent a beer has met our expectations.

We expected Innis & Gunn Bourbon Stout to be disgusting but actually found it drinkable. We described it on Twitter, however, as ‘surprisingly enjoyable‘: the surprise added to the overall pleasure of the experience, even if the beer itself isn’t something we’d buy again. (Is that what’s going on here, too?)

On the flipside, there are breweries and beers surrounded by so much hype that they can only be a disappointment, even if the product itself is, objectively speaking, in the green zone on our scale. For example, if we’re promised a ‘metric fuck-ton’ of hops but only get a 0.65 fuck-tons, we might feel let down, even if that’s actually more than enough.

11 replies on “The Enjoyability of Beer Vs. Expectation”

Always best to drink the beer first, THEN read the marketing bumf on the side of the bottle. That way you don’t let your preconceptions cloud your judgement.

I rarely read the marketing bumf on the side of the bottle, because it’s usually filled with ludicrous hyperbole or some variation on “well balanced, crisp malt with hoppy notes”.

That said, you can’t help bringing expectations with you – even without reading the blurb, if it’s a brewery I know then I’m already familiar with their house style, and a beer outside of that can be unsettling even if it’s delicious.

Can you imagine how troubling it would be to crack open a bottle from Brewdog and find a well crafted 4% Midland Mild inside?!

Funny thing is, BD used to make some lovely balanced, understated, sessionable beers. Then they obviously decided it was too much trouble and turned everything up to 11.

Actually, the ones that are most likely to make me enjoy a beer less due to misdirected expectations is the some of the “craft-style” offerings from established traditional brewers. The ones where you’ve read a load of bumf that builds up how they’ve got caught up in hop-fever and you should brace yourselves because this is a big, powerful, hop-monster of a beer with all the hardcore new-world hops they could throw at it, but the beer turns out to be a quite pleasant moderately hopped golden ale. Generally somewhere down the pint I can readjust and appreciate it for what it it rather than what it’s meant to be, but it makes for a rather underwhelming first impression…

Funnily enough having read your review of the Fuller’s Impy I see exactly this sort of thing all the time but most specifically in relation to stronger beers.

There’s often an odd reaction to stronger beers amongst drinkers, people seem to want to be blown away by the alcohol – I’m not saying that was the entirety of your experience as that would be to take your comments out of context, but it did read like that was part of it and, BTW, thought you articulated your feelings about the beer very well.

I think often when people see big ABV they expect to have their eyes water when they first smell it, be almost repelled by lots of higher alcohols, and have lots of ‘woooo’ like reactions like you’re drinking cheap tequila – and when beers don’t kick them in the pants they feel let down.

Personally, I think it’s better and shows more skill when a beer hides its alcohol, although it keeps getting me into trouble and I seem to wake up with more mascara on my pillow than I remember putting on the night before, but as you say often expectation is the mother of all let downs!

Derek, John and I were very clear that whilst this would be honking in ABV, we wanted it to be subtle and smooth and not overly sweet, apart from the very low levels of floral notes, which I was a little disappointed in, I think we achieved what we set out to and I’m looking forward to what will happen with some age, I’ve got a good feeling about that!


Melissa — we’ll have to think about how we express this kind of point in future. We weren’t after more obvious alcohol in the FIS, but a bigger flavour in general to justify drinking something that strong. On the scale in the post above, it was probably ‘delightful’, but we were certainly expecting ‘instant top ten’.

I think I only have 4 grades:

D) Awful, Is there some way I can persuade them to change it?
C) its drinkable but not particularly pleasant, I wouldn’t have it again
B) It not bad, I would happily have this again
A) Fantastic, worth remembering, I will google this when I get home

Most beers are either Bs or Cs.

A lot obviously depends on how each person engages with the information surrounded a beer. A second year tweeking on a beer I really liked on its first release was handed to me in a hotel lobby after a slightly contrived meeting that required a half hour chat with the rep as we sat in tiny armchairs. The revised beer tasted like soap. As we sat and I listened to the Christ-like birth of the beer I was well aware of the load of crap being served up by the nervous young man so the expectation was mitigated by the deep and abiding knowledge that the people, the intentions, the packaging and the backstory mean zippo in most cases. It’s up to the beer itself to tell you if it was worth it.

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