Tasting Beer Part 1: Money Buys Happiness

| November 11th, 2013 | No comments

A three part article regarding the drinking of beer for pleasure and how our opinions of beer are often influenced by external forces.

Jeff Alworth of Beervana recently discussed on his site the extrinsic factors that influence the price of a bottle of beer. He uses the example the graffiti artist Banksy selling original artwork without his name attached and only getting 1/500th of their actual value.

It’s not true for every beer in the grocery store, but when you start looking at bombers and special releases, you see that breweries are getting a lot more than the intrinsic value of the beverage–which is often no more than the value of the regular sixer of craft beer.  Like a Banksy canvas, that label means a whole lot to the consumer.

A good example of this would be something like Westvleteren XII. Despite being one of the highest rated beers in the world, in blind taste tests, it often isn’t chosen as the best beer in its style. Yet because of the allure of a beer made by monks, that can only be purchased from a remote monastery in Belgium, this beer consistently gets rave reviews.

Which leads me to a Reuters article on how money can buy happiness.

So what we’re looking for here isn’t something which will lift the line forever — only spiritual gurus promise that. And it’s not something where short-term happiness ends up being paid for with long-term side-effects. Instead, what we’re looking for is something which will predictably make us happier in the short term, which will have very little in the way of negative long-term effects, and which can be repeated as often as you like. Basically, any time you want to be happier, spend some money on this, and you’ll be happier. And then it’s over, and you can go back to your life, and if you want to do it again, you can.

The author goes on to explain that for the most part, the more money you spend on something, the higher quality it is, with the only exception being wine. Despite highlighting evidence of what happens when wine is blind tasted, he offers up this advice:

If you know what the wine you’re tasting is, if you know where it comes from, if you know who made it, if you’ve met the winemaker, and in general, if you know how expensive it is — then that knowledge deeply affects — nearly always to the upside — the way in which you taste and appreciate the wine in question.

The more you spend on a wine, the more you like it. It really doesn’t matter what the wine is at all. But when you’re primed to taste a wine which you know a bit about, including the fact that you spent a significant amount of money on, then you’ll find things in that bottle which you love. You can call this Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome if you want, but I like to think that there’s something real going on. After all, what you see on the label, including what you see on the price tag, is important information which can tell you a lot about what you’re drinking. And the key to any kind of connoisseurship is informed appreciation of something beautiful. What’s more, it stands to reason that the more we know about what we’re drinking, the more we’re going to like it.

The high ratings that Westvleteren XII gets shows that the same can also be true of beer. I actually think that this is extremely true with craft beer. The more we learn about beer, and the more we hear of great beers or breweries,  the more likely we are to keep enjoying craft beer. It’s like a never ending cycle, perpetuating our desire to keep learning and drinking.

What’s the moral of the story here? If anything, I suggest we simply take the time to learn more and appreciate the beers we drink, whether it be a limited release imperial stout meant for aging, or even if it is a pale lager. Final thought from that Reuters article:

What’s more, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on first-growth Bordeaux for this to work. You just need to spend a little bit more than you normally do — enough that you consider it to be aspecial bottle of wine. That’s it! When you sit down and pop it open, probably with people you love, in pleasant surroundings, everything is set for a very happy outcome.