You know what would go great with your beer? (Other than a lime—or another beer.) Some music. That’s according to Felipe Reinoso Carvalho, Ph.D., a researcher in Brussels who found you can enhance the the flavor perception of your favorite brew by listening to the right jams.
You’re constantly surrounded by sensory stimuli, like sound, sensation, scent, and color—all of which influence your taste. You wouldn’t think music would have such an impact on taste; but science proves otherwise.
In one of Carvalho’s studies, published in Frontiers in Psychology, done in conjunction with The Brussels Beer Project and English band The Editors, he and his team created a porter-style beer inspired by the Indie rock vibe and visual identity of the band. They came up with a medium-bodied ale infused with Earl Grey tea to add citrus notes that would play against the malty, chocolate flavors of the ale. Volunteers then tasted the beer with or without a label and with or without music.
People who were given beer with packaging and a soundtrack playing in the background enjoyed the beer and found it better tasting than those who drank the beer with no music or packaging. So, rock music pairs best with malt beers that have a roasted grain flavor, slight sweetness, and notes of spice and/or chocolate.
“In this case, we have shown people that previously knew the song that was used in the experiment, not only liked the multisensory experience of drinking beer more while listening to it, but they also liked the beer itself more,” lead study author Felipe Reinoso Cavalho, Ph.D., said in a press release. “It seems that the added pleasure that the song brought into the experience was transferred into the beer’s flavor.”
The main thing to remember, Carvalho notes, is music is entirely preferential. So, if you’re not a fan of the artist or song, you’re not going to have as enjoyable of an experience. You need to get soundtracks that speak to you on a greater level emotionally. But really, what do you have to lose? If nothing else, this science and your impending science experiment will make good dinner party conversation if nothing else…
Amber ales, pilsners, and sweet, fruity types of beer you’d enjoy on warm summer day or a BBQ, Carvalho says, are best enjoyed while listening to songs that have a pure sound. If you want to go the classical route, opt for music that has piano and flute. The instruments are higher in pitch, more pure sounding, and typically featured in lighter, more uplifting songs. Carvalho recommends “Time Has Told Me” by Nick Drake and “Blackbird” by The Beatles.
IPAs, pale ales, and other bitter beers are best served up with tropical tunes because they play off one another’s quirks and eccentricities. Opt for music that has lots of harmonics, rougher sounds (compared to pianos and flutes), and uses metal instrument (like trumpets and trombones). Carvalho recommends “Exodus” by The Skatalites. Anything from Bob Marley, like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” is a good choice, too.
Belgian beers (like lambic and gueuze) are acidic and tart, so they’re best paired with music that’s fast, has strong rhythms, and dissonance (when two opposing notes are played in unison). Try Nirvana “Hairspray Queen” or Generation X “King Rocker“.
Strong (High Alcohol Content) Beers
Beers with high alcohol content and strong, punchy flavor (and bitterness) are complented by songs that are darker, dissonant, and feature a synthesizer (an electronic musical instrument artists use via keyboard). Listen to “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell or a-ha’s “Take On Me“.