Saturday, 11 February 2012

That psychological factor

You could say what got me started thinking about this was when at work Mordue brewery's Kerry (our friendly face in the office) happened to be in the cold room when I gave her a sample of a new batch of beer from a cask. "Very bitter", she said, "citric and bitter". Interestingly later in the day I gave her another sample of beer in which the response was more like "toffee-caramel and winter fruits, not all that bitter".

The first beer mentioned in this story, was Winter Tyne. The second beer was also Winter Tyne. The trick was basically to place the cold unconditioned sample on top of the hot liquor tank (which is hot) for a few moments then bingo, you have a majorly different tasting experience. The fact that temperature affects one's perception of beer is no secret, and sadly I have yet to try Winter Tyne in all its glory from a hand pull.

Take another example from way back when I was at Heriot Watt university. A practical was set up where students blind-tasted two samples of beer then voted whether they thought the two samples were the same beer or different. Turns out that around 70% of the class thought that Carling lager sample A was different from Carling lager sample B.


To go into it in depth you could say that your impression of a beer is affected by psychological factors such as mood and environment as well as factors affecting the beer itself such as serving temperature and carbonation. Marketing also plays a big part (and this applies to niche products as well as mass market brands). Here's another question.

Would you rate a Rochefort 10 higher in this glass sat outside a Belgian cafe on a summer afternoon...

Or from a straight cobalt blue glass served in an enclosed odour free booth indoors? To be honest, in the second scenario I probably wouldn't even guess I was drinking Rochefort 10 (unless I already knew about it). As I have picked up on these things over time it has made me think more and more about the book.

Many readers may be familiar with the book, as it has been going now for nearly six and a half years and is on its seventh volume. It is a form of ticker's notebook that contains dates and tasting notes of almost every new beer I have tried since 2005. It's been with me to pubs and bars across counties and continents, from holiday cottages to honeymoons to roadside pubs for lunch on long car journeys. The book has been around a while now. 

Yet when I first started the book, it was meant to portray accurate tasting notes of as many different beers as possible and at the time psychological factors or any of the above were overlooked. And looking back over notes now is more interesting especially when you see accidental repeats of the same beer that actually read quite different reviews. Now could this be due to physiological factors? Batch to batch variation at the brewery? Maybe the first was fresher? Or could the review be tainted by the fact I'd just sunk five pints before writing it? 

I have some reviews that are totally illegible drunken scrawl where all you can make out are the last few words that say something like "was really good". Then there was that time I reviewed standing up in a crowded gents lavatory at a club whilst some bloke was throwing up nearby. Happy days. 

More recently I've started to think more on the lines of; who cares? I don't think beer is ever meant to be taken that seriously. So from now on I look back at tasting notes more as memories of what I thought of that beer at that time and the words I chose to express it. I've also cut back on the old 300 plus word in depth essays on individual beers, I just keep it short. 

So there you have the divide. The divide between tasting beer analytically (which is important for a brewer) and actually drinking and enjoying beer. Its the same divide that separates the beer geek from the beer drinker. But the question is, if you analyse what you drink too much does it actually hinder the enjoyment? My view is it depends entirely what beer and what environment you're drinking it in.  


Ed said...

Volume 7! Blimey doesn't time fly!

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I wish I wrote that.

Rob said...

Ed- it sure does. Brewers Union- Glad you liked it.