People say that beer is an acquired taste, but is this true for everyone? Some, no matter how hard they try, can never get around to liking beer. And this isn’t their fault. Something stronger than their own willpower is at work here: genetics!
What science has to say
Beer is bitter thanks to the low ethanol concentrations and hops, one of the four key ingredients during the brewing process. Hops are scientifically called Humulus lupulus and are cone-shaped flowers that bring different flavors to the brew. The amount of bitterness that hops bring depends on several factors, such as when the hops were added and for how long.
Some people, due to their genes, are highly sensitive to this bitterness. Evolutionarily, our taste buds and receptors think of a bitter flavor as something nasty, even potentially dangerous, poisonous, or harmful. So the natural inclination is to put bitter-tasting foods away rather than eat them. Think of children running away from nutritious veggies like broccoli and brussels sprouts. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t get them to have them!
There are 25 different receptors in our mouth just for bitterness. That’s a lot considering we have just 2 salty receptors. When we drink beer, the alpha and beta acids found in hops, along with ethanol, bind to 3 of the 25 bitter receptors, alerting the brain to the strong bitter taste. Bitter sensitivity is thus directly related to the number of taste buds an individual has in their mouth. The more there are, the more they are likely to hate hoppy beer.
With so many receptors just dedicated to bitterness, we can conclude that there will be many genetic variations and possibilities to how we perceive bitter flavors. One of the bitter receptors is the TAS2R16 which has 17 genetic variations. This includes a variant that can lead to alcohol dependence.
Tannic acid is a byproduct of brewing and is an active ingredient in beer. Our mouths don’t appreciate tannins because they dry them by binding them to our saliva’s lubricating proteins. A great way to combat this is to have nuts with beer. The healthy fats in nuts help to lubricate the mouth again and get rid of the feeling of dehydration. Nuts also have salt in them that helps counter the bitterness of the beer.
Some people might be put off by the smell. A typical beer can smell buttery if it has diacetyl present, sweet corn if it contains dimethyl sulfide, metallic if it has ferrous sulfate, like rotten eggs with the presence of hydrogen sulfide, like a banana with the presence of isoamyl acetate, rancid with butyric acids, like vinegar if acetic acid is present, and like mouthwash, if there is chlorophenol present in the beer, to name a few. If an individual does not like any of these smells, then chances are that they will not want to be near a beer that has a particular smell they dislike.
The carbonation in beer impacts cold receptors in our mouths, turning them on. These are one category of temperature receptors that make cinnamon taste hot and mint gum cold. These receptors also have genetic variations, and the feeling of coldness might be less appealing to some people.
Believe it or not, allergy to hops is a thing, and while this may affect only a tiny population, it’s still something that you should consider and try to relate to your own body. If you have a hop allergy and you find yourself drinking hoppy beer, you might get symptoms like sore throat, skin rashes, or a swollen tongue. Experiences like these are annoying, to say the least, and might be a reason why some people just want to stay away from beer.
Environmental and Cultural
Sometimes, alcohol isn’t accepted by certain cultures and societies, and this has an impact on people’s perceptions of beer. Some Muslim countries, for instance, don’t allow the sale and purchase of alcohol for their Muslim citizens. Strong negative opinions can alter your taste in a drink, and even if you end up drinking it, you might be averted by it.
Little experience with beer
If you’ve never tried beer before or haven’t given it time to adjust to your palate, chances are that you will have a negative image of it. For some, it takes time to develop a liking for beer, but if you give up before that, then you will live your entire life believing that you will never like it. Also, if you’ve never tasted beer before, you might be repulsed by what’s written on the internet about it. Statements like, “Beer tastes like pee.”, “it’s too bitter.”, “I want to puke; it tastes like shit.” or “I don’t like the taste of alcohol.” don’t really help matters.
You haven’t come across the right beer
Personal choice matters when it comes to liking beer and to have a personal choice, it is important to try various brands and types of beer. For some, hoppy beers like the IPAs are a no-go, and they are more inclined to try fruity beers like lambic ales or malty beers like dark lagers that they can stomach easily.
What to do about bitter sensitivity
So, the next time you are feeling left out in a bar seeing all your friends chugging 4 beers, letting loose, and dancing to the best tunes, you should know that not all is lost. There are ways that you can tone down the strength of your bitter receptors, the best of which is to turn to anything salty and sweet. Ever wonder why people bite a lemon and lick salt right after a tequila shot? This combination makes the strong tequila bite go away and makes it more pleasant to taste. When the bitterness drowns, you can appreciate the flavors of beer more.
I am a passionate beer connoisseur with a deep appreciation for the art and science of brewing. With years of experience tasting and evaluating various beers, I love to share my opinions and insights with others and I am always eager to engage in lively discussions about my favorite beverage.