How music can change the taste of beer

beer-and-music3Beer and music are perfect bedfellows (in fact only a curry could probably come between them). So we found a recent scientific study (how do you get to work on things like this? Cushty number or what!) that showed that your soundtrack of choice can influence how drinks and food taste, and even alter their alcoholic strength, rather fascinating. So if your beer is too bitter or your wine is too sweet – it may be the music you are listening to. 

Volunteers at the Music Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium, (the Belgians will do anything to improve the beer drinking experience it appears) were asked to taste a beer, and rated the experience, each time under the influence of a different sound stimulus. Participants were not informed that they were, in fact, tasting the same beer each time. Three type of ambient background music were used ; a Disney-style track – for sweet;  discordant high-pitched notes – for sour; and a deep bass rumbling sound – for bitter. Three organic beers where used, which varied from pale to dark, and from 4.5% alcohol strength to 8%, for comparison of the results.

Each experiment used one type of beer, and a combination of two soundtracks, involving different combinations of perceived taste – bitter–sweet, sweet–sour, and bitter–sour. The sour had the least effect.

Study lead Dr Felipe Carvalho, of Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said: “Participants rated the beer as significantly sweeter when listening to the sweet soundtrack than when listening to the bitter soundtrack. And volunteers rated the beer as significantly stronger while listening to the bitter soundtrack. For the first time we have demonstrated that it is possible to systematically modulate the perceived taste and strength of beers, by sonic cues.”

The study suggested restaurants might even choose their background music to influence the diners’ taste, as Dr Carvalho explained: “External sound can add value and pleasure to the overall eating and drinking experience. People’s perception of the sweetness and bitterness of bittersweet foods can be modulated by means of customized sweet and bitter soundtracks.”

The researchers concluded: “Overall, the soundtracks influenced the participants’ rating of the beers’ taste and strength. The results demonstrate that soundtracks that had been specially developed to evoke a specific taste can effectively be used in order to influence the participants’ beer tasting experience.”

It is believed the effect – synesthesia – is caused by one type of stimulation leading to the involuntary stimulation of another sense in the brain.

And it proves that when Heston Bulmenthal cooked up his groundbreaking Sound of the Sea dish he had the right idea. Michelin-starred chef Blumenthal is celebrated for his unusual combinations of food, challenging looks with taste. His gastronomic experimentation led him to combine eating with sound. Sound of the Sea, on the menu of the three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant, Bray, featured seafood and edible seaweed on a bed of sand-like tapioca – all washed down with the sound of breaking waves.

He said: “Context is incredibly important. Listening to the waves lapping up against the shore, most of us have heard that somewhere in our lives. It’s all about ‘nudging.’ If you nudge people – not turn them into lab rats – they have chance to lose themselves in a memory that is triggered by food.”

So, it appears folk music fans like it sweet and Drum and Bass fans are a bit bitter….