What Science Reveals About The Craft Beer Revolution

Between 2011 and 2013 the number of U.S. craft breweries jumped from 1,970 to 2,483. And the trend shows no sign of slowing down, with at least 413 new breweries opening in the past few months. Why is everyone so hopped up about craft beer? (See what I did there?) As usual, science has the answer.

Over at the Neuroanthropology blog, Russell Edwards, a doctoral student at the University of Central Florida (of course, it would be a Florida school), puts the craft beer craze of in the context of research done by anthropologist Daniel Lende—who proposes the following items as useful to understanding what drives consumption: sensorial, corporal, experiential, decision engaging, social, and meaningful.

Here's an excerpt of Edwards' article, though it's worth reading in full, preferably with a cold one:

The first of the factors is "sensorial." Lende describes this factor as something "provoking our tastes and catching our eye". Craft beer undoubtedly strives to engage in a sensorial response, with considerably more ingredients, and larger quantities of them, being used in their brewing process. My own ethnographic research reveals that craft brewers and consumers alike are quick to label mainstream domestic beers as "watered down" and "flavorless," insinuating that craft beer can elicit a greater engagement with their senses. But just what senses are engaged when someone drinks beer?

Hervé Abdi, a behavioral scientist, provides a fascinating overview of the senses involved in perceiving "flavor" (and not "taste") and their interaction with each other in the brain. Flavor is something experienced by the convergence of three different sensory systems: olfactory, gustatory, and trigeminal. The olfactory sense is controlled by the nose, allowing consumers to experience as many as 100,000 smells. The gustatory sense is synonymous with what most people refer to as taste, which has no more than 5 distinguishable classifications ("salty, bitter, sweet, sour, and umami"). Finally, the trigeminal sense is more complex, with it controlling a number of items including touch and temperature.

All of these inputs are thought to be processed by the orbitofrontal cortex in the brain to produce what we unconsciously recognize as flavor. Therefore, a product that can elicit more pleasurable stimulation of these individual senses is likely to be viewed as "more flavorful." In essence, this is what craft brewers seek to accomplish, even if the flavor varies from batch to batch of a particular beer they produce.

Read the entire article, "Carefully Crafting Consumption: Understanding the Craft Beer Revolution," at Neuroanthropology.