Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sensory School: Taste Perception and Sound

There are many factors that can affect your sensory evaluation of a beer. One of them is oft overlooked when tasting beer, but it might be affecting you more than you think. Our CFO/COO Carl put his ear to the ground to explore how sound can enhance or detract from your sensory experience.

The Pils Are Alive, With The Sound Of Music ...

Taste. Touch. Sight. Smell. Drinking beer is an experience of the senses. The Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines describe each of the dozens of styles and sub-styles in terms of aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel. Beer reviews on the popular forums similarly break their analyses down to categories of A(pperance), S(mell), T(aste), M(outhfeel), and O(verall), or some variation. All the senses are covered, except one ... Welcome to the sensory blog entry on the sound of beer.

What you hear affects your beer. There is a documented connection between sound and how flavor is perceived. Louder noises reduce the perception of sweetness or saltiness, leading to bland flavors. (Think about how that might impact the lunch served on your next coast-to-coast flight. Blech). Another trait, at least partially related to sound, crunchiness, has been linked to an increased perception of freshness, to the point that potato chip manufacturers strive to increase their products’ crunch factor. Perhaps that crispness contributes to the popularity of better west coast IPAs. In another sound/taste experiment, volunteers were given candies, which they ate while listening to music. When eaten while listening to high pitched sounds, the study participants tasted sweetness. When eaten while exposed to low pitched music, the same candies were perceived as bitter.

Sounds impact our behavior and our perceptions of beer. Loud sounds in bars result in an increase in consumption (after all, if you can’t talk you might as well drink). And, the tempo of music in your drinking environment can modulate the rate at which you chug. Perhaps yeast itself responds the same way. Jester King Brewery out of Texas, reportedly blares heavy metal to their fermenting Black Metal Imperial Stout. There’s also a winery, Sonor Wines, that has outfitted its tanks with speakers playing Mozart. Not sure which approach works better, but there’s an idea for a future flight ... a vertical of five Black Tuesdays brewed to the sounds of Vivaldi, Green Day, Katy Perry, Johnny Cash, and Talk Radio (for when you really want to agitate the yeast).

What Does The Bock Say?

Beer isn’t just subject to the sounds that surround it. Beer (both the making and drinking of) has its own sounds. English has many onomatopoetic words that capture some of these. We “pop” the top of our favorite canned beers and hear the “fizz” of CO₂ leading into our draft systems. Our glasses “clang” together in cheers. We “gulp” and “glug”, then “burp” when we’re done.

Leave it to Japanese language to bring these phonomimes to a whole new level. Its collection of Giongo phrases mimic the sounds we hear, much better than English sound words. In Japan, the sound of swallowing beer is “gokugoku,” while guzzling is “kogukogu.” Gases bubbling from the blow-off buckets beneath fermenters may sound like “pakupaku.” And, “zaazaa” usually marks the sound of falling rain, but could easily infer the sounds of flowing grain from an auger into a mash tun. A dry mouth is “karakara,” awaiting to be quenched by something refreshingly “seppari”. You’re “mukamuka” when you’ve drunk too much. But all is forgiven as long as you’re not caught “shikushiku” sniffling and crying into your pint.

Whisper’d in the Sound of Slante

So next time ... Before you stick your nose in the tulip glass, before you peer into the beer, before your taste buds first meet the brew, take a second to pause ... and listen to the noise around you. How is it affecting your experience? How do you think its making the yeast feel? Based on the anecdotes above, the taste of beer may be best experienced in solitude, at least to get the most out of the flavor. But we know from hours and hours of sitting at the Tasting Room that beer, especially Bruery beer, is best enjoyed shared, in the company of others. Cheers!

Post written by Carl Katz, our CFO and resident champion of eastern culture.

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