What would you say if I told you that taste is the least important part of the beer you enjoy? You can imagine how incredulous some people might feel because, for some drinkers, taste is all that matters. And for some ginormous beer companies, that’s all they want you to believe.
While beer tasting “good” is a fine expectation, it also should be a given. Taste alone is very limiting. Beer ought not simply taste good. It can be – and should be – more.
Before you write off this article as the gripes of just another hipster beer snob, consider this: Taste, by definition, is elemental. What people mean when they say “taste” is flavor. Taste is one component of what manifests in your mind as flavor.
Of course, you could argue that the confusion between taste and flavor is largely semantic. How can you tell the difference? Here’s a test: Plug your nose and try to drink a beer simply with taste. Pretty boring, huh?
(READ: What Is the Independent Craft Brewer Seal?)
We need other senses to have a shot at enjoying beer (enjoying anything, really), but we need our brain to put it all together. A crucial part of the brain’s ability is filing the flavor with your memories; not only will the brain identify the flavor later, but it tags it to a time and place, even an emotion.
Bottom line: You’re tasting yourself into a corner if you think taste is all that matters.
Taste is Deceiving
Taste is a catalyst for all that we enjoy eating and drinking, but it also can be deceiving. Taste is our highly sophisticated tool to analyze whether what we put in our mouth will help us or harm us if swallowed.
I once described this theory while trying to explain why some people don’t like IPAs. We are biologically pre-conditioned to know what could help or hurt us through taste, but big business knows this too and has found ways to use that in how we make purchases. An entire industry is devoted to not only imitating flavors we’re wired to like, but also how to make them practically irresistible.
(READ: Beer Tasting Games to Train Your Palate)
While beer tasting “good” is a fine expectation, it also should be a given. Beer ought not simply taste good. It should be – and can be – more.
On paper, are those tasty thin chips that come stacked in a tube (you know — the ones where once you pop, you can’t stop) the most amazing food ever, and healthy, filling and vital to our existence? No! So, why are we unconsciously driven to polish off the entire tube? Because taste tricks us. Some foods have been designed to be irresistible! Artificial and natural flavors trick us into consuming the entire bag of chips.
Committing choice to taste might seem like an honest way to make decisions, but is the taste honest? If you like the flavor of strawberries, is it fair to expect that the flavor of strawberry is derived by actual strawberries? And if not, does taste still reign supreme?
At the very least, by choosing to demand more out of your beer holds us all to a higher standard.
The “Who Gives a Sh*t?” Argument
Let’s address the “taste is all that matters” crowd. They’re the ones that, after a small brewery sells, say: “Who gives a sh*t? All that matters is that beer tastes the same.” It’s a lame argument.
In 2017, an expanded awareness suggests beer lovers’ appreciation goes beyond personal taste. To think that taste is all that matters is to reject the reasons people love American breweries. Beer does more than taste good. What about all the things it teaches us, or beer’s ability to create community? Taste alone cannot account for the popularity and the ability to build community and culture.
Now ask me again: “Who gives a sh*t?”
I believe that beer is not a commodity or a CPG (Consumer Packaged Good). I know that as exciting as it is to find an exceptionally tasty beer that makes me go “Wow!”, I find my enjoyment is heightened if that beer has a great story to go with it, or if I believe in the owners of the brewery that made it. If it was all about taste, my enjoyment would end when the glass is empty. But by allowing myself to be aware of a greater picture, the story behind the beer and the people who made it, I will enjoy the beer far longer.
A beer’s character isn’t just about mouthfeel — it’s about standing for something greater.
(VISIT: Find a U.S. Craft Brewery)
The Limits of Taste
Whether you realize it or not, taste is a small part of the reason you love independent beer. It is the magic of authentic craft brewers that Big Beer so desperately wants — but can’t recreate.
Authenticity, independence or any other abstract beer experience may not be perceived on your tongue, but our unlimited ability to choose our own adventure – supporting breweries we freely choose to support – has sparked this shift, this culture, this revolution for craft brewers.
Big Beer wants us to believe that taste is paramount, but taste is subjective. The next time you taste a beer, consider if you like the beer simply based on taste, or is there more to it? Don’t just taste your beer, believe in it.
CraftBeer.com is fully dedicated to small and independent U.S. breweries. We are published by the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers. Stories and opinions shared on CraftBeer.com do not imply endorsement by or positions taken by the Brewers Association or its members.