The Psychology of Beer Tasting

If you’re going to participate in a psychology study, you could do worse than one where you’re asked to taste nine different beers.

That’s the study researchers in New Zealand ran recently. Putting their scientific budget to good use, they bought enough beer to invite 128 regular beer drinkers into the lab, then asked the participants to describe each of nine beers.

Looking for patterns in who tended to like which beers, the researchers found that the nine beers could be separated into two main groups.

Four of the beers tended to be described as “easy to drink.” The drinkers tended to taste these beers as being less complex, more appropriate for use in a wide range of settings, and more linked to feelings of calmness and relaxation.

The remaining five beers were less popular, and were often described using negative terms like “jittery,” “tense” and even “unhappy.”

Of course, these beers had their fans too. In fact, the researchers found that people who liked some of the beers in each category tended to like other beers in that category too. They termed people who liked beers in the “easy to drink” category Lager Lovers while people who liked studbeers in the other category more were Ale Aficionados. So yes, those are now officially scientific terms.

This isn’t the first study to look at the psychology of beer preferences. In fact, it’s a safe bet than many a psychology researcher dreams of using a scientific grant to clean out the coolers in the local liquor store.

For example, a 1998 study found that people who are sensitive to the taste of a compound called propylthiouracil (PROP for short) like some beers less and tend to drink lower quantities of beer when they first start drinking beer. This finding is in line with an earlier study which showed that children of alcoholics are less likely to be able to taste PROP, which could mean they enjoy the taste of alcohol more.

While the research into individual differences in beer tasting is fairly straightforward, the question of how to use these research findings is more controversial. The studies on bitterness tasting and beer consumption were done with the goal of finding ways to prevent alcoholism and lower people’s alcohol consumption. And the study on Lager Lovers and Ale Aficionados? That one was done with the goal of marketing beers more effectively!

Image: Flickr/Julian Tysoe