Beer lovers enjoy craft beer for a lot of reasons including innovation and variety. However, one of the most important elements that makes craft beer a true legend is flavor. The presence of lots of literature on beer flavors is enough a testimony to the complexity of this aspect. Some authors describe flavors as primary, secondary, and tertiary while others prefer to associate them with what they resemble. You may hear of woody flavors or sour flavors.
That said, flavor is simply a mixture of taste and aroma. Our palates, tongues, mind, and nose plays a key role in helping us perceive the different flavors. Below are the 4 main sensations which work collectively to help us define what flavor is all about.
This is a dominant sense which affects our perception on flavor. Without smell, the craft beer gifts we buy or receive would be so simplistic and one dimensional. Smell is a synthetic experience which happens through two reactions.
The first reaction is known as orthonasal. This refers to sniffing where your nasal glands collaborate with the brain to chemical interpret and perceive the flavor.
The second reaction is called retronasal. This refers to the chemical reactions which take place at the meeting point between the mouth and nose. When you taste beer, it emits aromatic vapors which react with the over 300 odor receptors to help detect the possible aromas.
The tongue and soft palate have receptors which perceive the taste chemical sense. Taste cells are contained in taste buds on the tongue lining. Each of these taste buds has over 40 taste cells. A single taste cell in turn is specific to one and only one taste modality. When you drink beer, it dissolves in saliva and enters the taste bud from where the beer molecules interact with the cell receptors for bitter, sweet, and umami.
When the molecules enter the taste bud, the receptors send a chemical signal which is later transformed into an electrical signal to the brain. The brain then interprets and gives the perception and decision to either drink or spit out. The main tastes detected are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.
The touch or somatosensory in the mouth is an extension of the skin receptors. The touch sensations concern pain, temperature, and texture. They are directly detected via free nerve endings residing in the mouth. When the touch sensation combines with the other senses, it helps interpret the flavor better.
This has nothing to do with the biological processes in your body, but it has a huge impact on your beer tasting. Experience is all about the things that happen in your surroundings at the point when and where you are taking your beer.
Some of the key elements that define experience include the atmosphere, memories you may have whether good or bad, the influence of other people, and your previous consumption. For instance, flavors from previous beers taken can be carried over to the next round of drinks. Also, when someone around you says that a particular beer tastes bitter, such a comment may influence you and your mental interpretation.
It’s therefore important to understand the various sensations that come into play whenever you sit down with your friends to enjoy that can of beer.