Earlier this week we posted a chart from a Stanford study that shows the difference between novice and experienced beer drinkers.
Essentially, experts are much more inclined to give strong ales a higher rating. Experts also have much stronger opinions about all beers. They dislike cheap lagers (like Bud Light) more than the novices hate cheap lagers. And they like the strong ales more than the novices like the strong ales.
So why do experts like these strong ales so much?
Reddit user psychguy — who characterises himself as a serious beer drinker who does his own homebrewing — wrote a fascinating, highly-rated comment explaining what’s going on.
There are two factors at play, he says. One is taste-fatigue: The more beer you drink, the more you need a strong beer to keep interested. The other element is social conformity. Once the group has decided that strong tastes are superior, then everyone in the group feels the need to conform to that. He relates a fascinating observation that when he enters beer competitions, his mediocre strong beers tend to rate higher than his well-executed mild beers.
He was kind enough to give us permission to republish his comment here:
As an avid homebrewer who has been very involved in the craft beer movement for a couple decades, I have to say that this article also highlights a strong beer bias among experts, as well as the more commonly realised lager bias among beginners. I have noticed that the longer one is in the field (either brewing or being a connoisseur), the most tastes shift towards stronger beers. There is an assumption that this is due to expertise, but I think that taste fatigue and social conformity may also play a role. When you are regularly drinking strong beers, certainly within a session, but also between sessions, you are going to experience some taste fatigue and have difficulty appreciating nuances of weaker beers. Also, when you are embedded in a community that universally prizes certain experiences (Pliny the Elder, etc.), if you don’t express appreciation for those beers your competency is questioned. This is a form of social conformity, and it would produce the exact same statistical convergence in expert opinions that expertise would produce.
I have some personal anecdotes that support this as well. I am very good at brewing medium body malty beers; I have three medals from the AHA nationals and one from my local state fair for brown ales, Octoberfests and Vienna lagers. I am very good at self-critiquing, so I generally know which of my beers are good and which are mediocre. When I bring beers to professional tastings, my rather mediocre barleywines and imperial stouts get much better accolades than my far superior browns, California commons, milds, bitters, Octoberfests, and Vienna lagers. It is only when being judged within style in a formal competition that the strong beer bias does not show itself, and even there, there is still a tendency for out-of-style beers with high alcohol content to make surprise showings in competitions.
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