Friday, February 08, 2008

Pairing beers with food music

bebop in a glass
Noted wine industry provocateur Clark Smith recently posited the notion that amongst the many environmental variables that elevate or ruin the experience of tasting, music has a profound and quantifiable effect on the perception of the main qualities of taste. Which is great, because as much as I love talking about music, this hasn't really been the right forum for it...

While the somewhat generic suggestions he's proposed (and then tested) have been met with more than a whiff of skepticism (he makes a better oenologist than a musicologist), there's certainly something suggestive at the core of his thesis. While the link between pairing different sensations of taste and smell certainly dominate the foodie world - think beer- and wine-maker dinners, meal suggestions printed on wine labels, perfume-prohibitive tasting sessions - we, as bundles of receptive sensory organs constantly merging information from every which way, most certainly synthesize what we're listening to while we taste.

It's easy to close your eyes, but nearly impossible to not hear things. As one commenter wrote in response to the Smith article mentioned above, we all enjoy a certain level of synaesthesia. Rather than pretending that you can truly immerse yourself in the tasting experience in anechoic surroundings, you're much better off engaging the psychoacoustic nuances that are potentially invigorating or blunting the finer points of your chosen bevvy.

So why carry on about this subject here, in this little bastion of beer on the far west side of the blogosphere? Simply put, I think beer is a better control in this experiment. Of all the arguments against Smith's theory, the one that counts the innumerable variables has the most weight. Music is inherently subjective, making such Music Theory 101 concepts such as "major and minor tonality", along with grade school newspaper CD review adjectives like "happy" and "aggressive" mostly moot in any scientific survey. And worse than that is the subjectivity of wine itself. A recent study showed that the assumed dollar value of a wine affects how its quality is perceived (as if you needed any more proof of the socioeconomic stigma associated with fermented grape juice). Beer, on the other hand, has the underdog advantage of being perceived as of base or little value. All the better for letting the actual flavors do the talking.

Oh, I could go on and on, really. Seriously. But instead, I'd love to hear some of your suggested pairings. In our next installment (hopefully with some audio to get you started), we'll revisit this with some proposed music+beer+heaven equations of our own. At the very least, it makes for a great tasting party premise: call your friends, bring a bottle of something interesting and your iPod and get the notepads out...



Blogger quetzlcloth said...

Hmm. It seems to me that metal tends to makes me want something relatively light, a pils (Stockhausen too), but ambient, minimalist music leaves plenty of room for an ale. Even a stout.

Maybe there's some inversely proportional relationship between the density of the music and the density of the beer (err, put that in beer terms...)

Then again, lots of music just makes me want to drink.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Brian Yaeger said...

So what if this post is almost a year old. I just found it. I think it's a brilliant idea to pair beer and music, since my guess is that most beer enthusiasts are also music buffs (or maybe I'm projecting). I absolutely intend to create beer-worthy playlists for all my future tasting events.

One thing that would work, naturally, is to pair country-of-origin. And if, unlike me, you don't have CDs of traditional Irish and German drinking songs to pair with your Guinness and Weihenstephaner Hefeweiss, respectively, then perhaps some Pogues or Kraftwerk?

For domestic craft brews, I'd also pair with a sense of place. Sierra Nevada goes great with another old hippy notion from California: the Grateful Dead, just as Magic Hat pairs with the Vermont equivalent: Phish.

Firestone-Walker beers from Double Barrel Ale to XII, since they're brewed with winemakers mentality, go with anything from Django Reinhardt to a guy I went to UC Santa Barbara with, Jack Johnson. Too snooty? Then try Yuengling Lager with another Mid-Atlantic workhorse, the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.

Man, I could go on forever. Thanks for putting me on the path.

11:41 AM  

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