Sunday 3 January 2010

The Hop Press: What’s outside the glass is important too

In his New Beer’s Resolution post, Reluctant Scooper writes about how place, time and company impact upon beer enjoyment. This is massively important and it’s pretty central to my latest Hop Press post. You see, attaching a numerical value to a selection of criteria based on a sensory experience is not easy, yet at the same time all you need to do is decide how much you like something and then score it accordingly (if you aren’t ‘rating’ then the same idea applies and there is still some kind of subconscious process in which you decide how much you like what you are drinking: How drinkable is it? What does it taste like? How refreshing is it? Shall I get another or choose something different?).

I care about what is outside of the glass: the mood of the drinker, the kind of day they’ve had, what the weather is like, the kind of thirst they have, who they are with and where they are. All of this is important. Drink a bottle of ice cold lager in your garage on a rainy February afternoon and it’s probably going to taste crap. Open the same beer on a hot tropical beach in the middle of summer and it’ll taste wonderful. Likewise, a barley wine shared with friends after a long, enjoyable dinner will be better than a lonely bottle drunk while watching TV in the evening when you are full of a nasty cold (that’ll clear the system!). Sharing experiences also attaches extra texture to the memories we have of something. You’ll remember the barley wine with friends because of the fun you had. You might not even like the beer that much as a taste experience, but as life wraps around the glass it becomes more enjoyable.

I’ve written about the taste of memories before. There’s a similar idea behind that post.


  1. couldn't agree more - the whole drinking experience and environment has a HUGE part to play in your enjoyment.

    We all spent ages seeking out the mythical beer that we drank every day on holiday only to find it tastes like dishwater on a rainy Tuesday in front of Eastenders.

    I've become too much of an at home drinker, am definitely going to revisit some beers under different circumstances and see how they taste this year

  2. I think that when people, including myself, say "The only important thing is what's in the glass", or something of those lines, they are speaking about the beer. Meaning that where it comes from, how and by whom it was made, etc. won't guarantee the quality of what you are drinking.

    All those things you mention, friends, holidays, etc. are extraneous to the beer, and can be transferred to any other thing, wine, food, music, etc. improving them in the process.

    It's a bit of a paradox, if you want. You are having a good time with your mates at a garden party in summer, the weather is lovely and someone gives you a bottle of, say, Stella. You won't turn it down, even if you know the beer is crap, but at that moment it suits you just fine because you are in a good mood and you really don't care what you are drinking as long as it keeps the mood going.

    One of the best pints I've had in my life was on Crete, after walking the 16km of the Samaria Gorge on pretty warm day. Right at the exit of the National Park there's a kiosk selling snacks and draft beer. I bought myself one, I'm not sure what it was, but it was tooth shattering cold and it tasted like heaven. Would I drink it under any other circumstances? Not likely, but it's still one of the best pints.

  3. Kristy, I love holiday beers :) Re-visiting beers will be interesting to see how they compare to the memories you have of them.

    PF, I agree, a good mood can be attached to any experience and improve it. One of my favourite beers is Mythos. But I only drink it in Greece when it's roasting hot and I've been chilling on the beach all day. Right there it's perfection. Drink it anywhere else and it's pretty rubbish. And it works both ways, I think. An excellent beer can be underwhelming if you aren't in a great mood. It's all context.