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Old 06-05-2011, 01:57 PM   #60
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Originally Posted by Tomes of Deceit View Post
I guess what I'm wondering about beer tasting is whether it could have to do with the extent to which peoples' minds make associations between semi-unrelated things. For example, having a great appreciation for poetry (or even literature or film) requires you to read a word or phrase and pull out all these connotations and associations that the author may be implicitly trying to get you to think about.

If I read a poem I invariably have no idea what it's supposed to be about. Then if someone explains to me these connections, I think it's obvious and I can't believe I didn't notice it. In this case it makes sense, because I spend all my time reading science writing, in which you have to train yourself to perceive only what is explicitly stated, and never assume even the slightest detail which you think the writing may imply.

It seems to me that one's physical brain structure could influence whether they take things very literally or make more intuitive associations between memories.

Tasting is kind of the same thing: a physical chemical hits your taste buds, but after that the process of memory takes over and could be subject to the same sort of associations between various tastes from your past. People talk about developing their palate, and I certainly believe that you can learn to identify the flavor of certain malts or hops that are actually in the beer. But in the case of ingredients which are NOT physically present, could much of this "palate development" really be about building these associations?
that's a really interesting way of looking at it, not sure if the following is or isn't the same idea in different words:

"let's look at fruit flavors in wine. If winemakers don't add other fruits to wine -- and they don't -- then where do these fruit flavors come from? According to Terrance Leighton, molecular biologist at the University of California at Davis, "A wine's flavor, character and aroma are locked up in the grape, and it's the yeast (through fermentation) that activates -- unlocks -- these characteristics."

A wine grape is a unique fruit in that it contains natural chemical compounds that are also found in other fruits and vegetables. Fermentation, a simple chemical reaction, releases these compounds, and so we smell and taste these same aromas and flavors in the finished wine. For example, the strong black pepper aroma and flavor of California zinfandel (red, of course) comes from the same compound that gives black pepper its spicy kick. And the tangy apple flavor found in most chardonnays comes primarily from malic acid, the tart acid found in apples."

i don't think i could ever train my palate as well as others, all i can really do is try to keep up. when i was first learning how to taste for particular flavors, i would "cheat" a lot by looking up reviews on beer advocate or ratebeer. then, as i drank the beer, i would read reviews and see whether i could or couldn't taste the flavors that some reviewers noticed. as i became more confident, i would generate my own ideas about flavors and then double check them against reviews. maybe i would be thinking "this is a prominent blueberry flavor," and all the reviews would say "nah, more like blackberry" (bad example but you get the idea). then i would try to think about why it was blackberry rather than blueberry and try to "memorize" the taste for next time. nowadays i don't read beer reviews too much because i feel comfortable making my own judgments. i know i'm not going to taste everything some people can taste, but i can still notice the main flavors.

one thing my old boss at the liquor store taught me was to eat fruit often. we used to walk across the street to whole foods at lunch and buy a selection, because fruit flavors are some of the most detectable in beer, and the ability to differentiate between various fruit flavors is essential. especially because west-coast hops often taste like grapefruit or mango.

naitsabes' example of banana in hefeweizen is a really good one. that's one of the first fruit flavors i had an easy time noticing. buy a few hefs and pay special attention to the frequently-observed banana, bubblegum, and clove flavors. drink them one after another and you'll start to notice their similarities and differences. now that you've added banana flavor to your repertoire, you'll have an easier time noticing it in the future. if someone gave you a blind taste and you tasted banana, you could make an educated guess that you were drinking a hef.

it's really all about practice. working at a fancy liquor store for a year, i was trying different beers every day and getting tasting advice every day. through diligence, interest and practice, anyone can develop this ability.
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