A Perfect Combination
(August 9th, 2016) Beer has played a part in the culture of many societies. A new study by Belgian scientists has decided to test the mutual benefits of beer and music. Teaming up with the UK indie rock group The Editors, they have looked at whether sound influences the way we perceive the taste of beer.
When it comes to beer, tastes clearly differ. Belgian beers can be distinctively sour, sweet, bitter, strong, light, dark, funky or even come with a flavour of horse sweat. One’s personal perception of a beer is also influenced by the drink’s presentation - most people are positively affected by a pretty label on the bottle. You eat with your eyes, too, they say. But what about hearing? A team of enthusiastic Belgian researchers and brewers has now investigated how background music influences the perception of beer taste. For this study, Felipe Reinoso Cavalho from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and KU Leuven collaborated with the small Belgian brewery The Brussels Beer Project and the music group The Editors.
Together the brewers and musicians created the beer “Salvation” inspired by one of the songs on the latest The Editors’ album “In Dream”. The brewers used the album as its inspiration for the beer-formula, which is based on a UK porter-style beer. Porter beers are usually dark ale beers with medium body. The brewers added certain malts for bitter cocoa and biscuit flavour as well as classic hop for moderate bitterness. Then they spiced up the beer with Earl Grey tea to give it a citrus-like aroma and the flavour of bergamot orange. The beer is designed to match with The Editors’ song “Ocean of Night”. But does this concoction, sampled with the corresponding song, enhance the hedonic beer-drinking experience in lab volunteers?
To test their hypothesis, the team divided 231 participants into three groups. The first two groups were denied the song and drank the beer after seeing the bottle with label (group 1) or without label (group 2). The third group was exposed to the full experience: Tasting the beer, seeing the bottle with nicely designed label and listening to the song. All participants described their impressions with a multiple choice form, asking how much they liked the beer on a 7-point rating scale. They also had to rate the sweetness, bitterness and sourness as well as the perceived alcohol strength. The result? The third group (with beer, label and music) enjoyed the beer 20% more than the other two groups. Apparently, everything tastes better with good music. Then again, perhaps the participants simply evaluated the whole beer-tasting-experience. Who wouldn’t feel more comfortable drinking a beer in a bar with good music?
The researchers think that the song added some pleasure to the tasting experience, which was transferred to the beer’s flavour. Interestingly, the perception of the beer’s sweetness and bitterness did not differ between the three groups. Only group 1 (label only) thought it was less sour and lighter. Here, the song might be balancing some of the attitudes the label on the bottle instills in consumers.
While the scientists think that their work could be of value for a “more artistic approach in food/beverage product development”, food scientist Tim Selbach from Tapperiet BRUS in Copenhagen, Denmark, sees little application. “In a beer bar, you have numerous beers and it’s impossible to play one specific song for only one beer.” He also observes that whether people actually like the song they hear when drinking the beer might also have an influence. After all, listening to your favourite songs will always make you feel better, no matter whether they are compatible with your beer or not.