Beer can be a divisive drink. When people love it, they’re all in. But when they hate it, nothing in the world can convince them to take a sip. Yet, tea lovers might relish a cup of coffee, and wine connoisseurs will enjoy a refreshing cold beer.
If liking both is possible, why do some people hate it? Why do people like beer?
So, pull up a barstool and relax with a cold one while we explore how beer earned its popularity.
Bitter Rejection Response
Your taste buds have five types of taste receptors: sweet, sour, salty, savory, bitter. (No, we haven’t forgotten umami, but the relative newness makes it an anomaly.) Back in the wilder days of human evolution, bitter flavors were a warning that something was poisonous. If bitter signaled toxicity, how did we come to appreciate beer?
The bitter rejection response isn’t a perfect system. Your tongue will detect the same bitterness from a highly lethal plant as it would from a sip of normal beer.
As civilization developed, we adapted. For example, we’ve learned to appreciate the tastes surrounding bitter food, like the subtle sweetness of dark chocolate, the richness of a dark roast, and the heavy roasted dark beer flavor. People don’t like the bitterness; they appreciate the combination of tastes.
So, let’s hop past the science behind taste and name the top reasons beer lovers like beer.
Now it might seem strange that people genuinely like the flavor of beer, especially after reading about the bitter rejection response, but it’s true.
There are two types of people who enjoy the taste of beer:
- People who love it from the first taste.
- People who learn to appreciate the taste over time.
Some people become beer lovers after drinking a single beer, but they are a rarity. While some drinkers want to limit their hops, others prefer hoppy beer styles. No two people are alike. Gene variations can change our taste receptors, giving some a liking for sweet foods and others a taste preference for more decadence.
The people who learn to love beer are usually less about the bitterness in beer and more about the other flavors. Whether you enjoy a light beer or a dark beer, the flavor profiles are unique.
If your first beer is dark, it might put you off the alcoholic beverage. On the other hand, if you prefer the malty flavor of darker beers but have only tried light beer, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. It can take a bit of trial and error before you discover your best match.
Wine enthusiasts can say the same. Much like red versus white, for beer, it’s light versus dark. There are a few crossovers here and there, but the two types are polar opposites for most. Then, there are further intricacies within the two types. Finding the beer you like sometimes requires a few flutes.
Why are salted peanuts a popular bar snack? It’s because salty and sweet tastes counteract bitter tastes, letting you experience more flavor in both the food and the beer.
BBQ wings with beer? Yam fries with beer? If your mouth is already watering, you know exactly how clever pairings make beer and bar food the ultimate duo. Studies have also discovered that beer helps stimulate digestion. As a result, your stomach can more easily break down tasty and greasy bar food.
There’s no shortage of research that states drinking makes you eat more, but it also makes food taste so much better. In addition, the biological reactions tied to pairing certain types of alcohol and food consumption impact the reward response for eating more. Meaning, you’re not hungrier because of the beer; you’re just enjoying it more.
Beer has a long history as a social drink. From overpriced stadium beer to backyard barbecues, it’s the beverage of choice. But how did it happen?
Beer has been a part of social drinking and celebrating for centuries. While the most remembered beer-themed event might be Oktoberfest, imbibing has been a cherished tradition far longer than modern festivals or sporting events. Beer brewing can be traced back 10,000 years to a Göbekli Tepe site in southeastern Turkey, where beer and feasting went hand-in-hand.
The average alcohol percentage in beer is much lower than other beverages, including wine or spirits. Therefore, you can enjoy more of it without feeling adverse effects, making it more ideal for casual social gatherings.
Imagine a football fan holding a glass of chardonnay marked with face paint and wearing a foam finger. Beer is part of sports fan culture, whether fans are cheering from the stands or watching a screen.
Bars and pubs regularly host events, furthering the association of community and social activity. For example, your neighborhood coffee shop might host book clubs and rows of writers on laptops; pubs host festive gatherings.
A recent study from researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago found that feelings play an enormous part in what we enjoy. It might seem obvious, but the research contrasts with the idea that DNA determines our tastes.
The university study found that fans of beer enjoy the way they feel when drinking beer. They drink beer for the buzz, not the taste.
Not every beer drinker will feel the same, as some people are energized by alcohol while others are relaxed. However, beer is generally associated with relaxing.
Researchers from the Public Health Wales National Health System Trust and King’s College London analyzed the Global Drug Survey data. They found a correlation between mood and alcohol preference. In addition, beer was the first choice for relaxing with friends and other positive situations.
In 2017, the University of Graz in Austria linked beer consumption and a boost in creativity. It’s not the first study to correlate imagination and alcohol. While there is no indication drinking a six-pack by yourself will let you paint the next Sistine Chapel, your ideas will flow more freely.
The takeaway from the research is that mild intoxication leads to divergent thinking, meaning you can look at something ordinary and think up an extraordinary use for it. However, don’t schedule an elite mathematical marathon or sign up for logic puzzles after a few rounds of beer.
Now, if you’ve booked an escape room, that’s another story. Sometimes creative thinking opens you up to new possibilities, making it easier to spot a few more clues. Also, research supports the idea that drinking beer improves your score for word games. But drink responsibly, as too much alcohol impairs productivity.
Craft Is Trending
The big beer brands, and many mid-sized brands, are owned by two companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. By 2012, the two gigantic corporations controlled 90% of the market.
You would expect that with such a tiny percentage leftover, it would stifle competition. Competition can inspire creativity, experimentation, reinvention. Without it, the beer market is stale.
Enter stage right: the craft beer industry.
Despite being in that limited 10%, breweries are booming. The number of breweries grew by 120% between 2008 and 2016. Microbreweries and independent craft beer are revitalizing the industry. While their share of the market remains small, the success of craft beer is growing every year. Surprisingly, in 2020 operational craft breweries reached an all-time high, with over 8,764 in the US.
Beer is loved worldwide. Endorsing more variety and the opportunity to support small businesses has allowed craft beer to trend.
Picture yourself in the afternoon of a hot summer day sitting on a patio with a chilled beer. Nice, right? There’s a reason you see ads of beaches and beer. It’s the top pick for refreshing summer beverages (aside from boring water).
You might remember we mentioned that beer has lower alcohol content in comparison to most alcoholic beverages. So while beer isn’t as hydrating as lemonade or fruit-infused water, it won’t dry you out like other alcohol.
So if it isn’t hydrating, why does beer taste so refreshing? The answer: carbonation.
When you guzzle a beer, the resulting chemical reaction in your mouth transforms your beer’s carbon dioxide bubbles into carbonic acid. The biting sensation of drinking fizzy beer comes from carbonic acid, and it’s this tricky sensation that helps you feel refreshed.
Colder temperatures produce more bite in your beer. So, chilled, fizzy beer is scientifically proven to quench your thirst better than a flat, room temperature beer. While it likely comes as no surprise, you’ll enjoy a cold beer more than a warm one.
So, why do people like beer? The reasons people like beer might not be the same from person to person, but imbibers can all agree there’s a lot to like. For some, it’s more about the friendly company than personal preference, while others are picky about their brews.
Why do you like beer? Is it one of the reasons above? Or are you baffled why anyone could consume bitter hops?
Whether you’re planning a nanobrewery or popping a bottle cap off for the big game, enjoying in peace or with a crowd, there’s a lot to enjoy.