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Are You Genetically Programmed to Hate Hoppy Beer?

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Are You Genetically Programmed to Hate Hoppy Beer?

Posted in Craft Beers By BrookVille Beer

02/08/16

I’m always amazed that craft beer generates such polarizing opinions. No matter how many excited beer fans I meet, there are always a few people that love to tell me how much they hate beer, or a specific style of beer.

Now, I’m not a fan of crinkle-cut carrots, but I don’t hate them. It’s just a preference; not an all-out hatred. I can understand if you prefer other beverages more than beer, or prefer certain beer styles over others, but to generalize and say that you just don’t like it? I think that’s very limiting.

After all, beer is a very personal, multi-faceted experience that is dependent on many variables. I continue to learn that beer has as much to do with environmental conditioning as it does with your innate human makeup.

Believe it or not, humans are not born with an inclination for hand-crafted, hoppy India pale ales, and some have never developed a taste for bitter-forward beers. If you’re one of those people, I bet you’ve gotten some grief at some point from your “hop-head” friends. Don’t worry, you’re not an inhuman monster (probably—I don’t know you), and here’s why: distaste for hops is part of our human genetic heritage.

It’s Science, You Guys
During a recent taste seminar at the Great American Beer Festival, Dr. Nicole Garneau, a geneticist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, explained that human taste is a sophisticated sensor that is pre-wired to keep us safe and alive.

To illustrate this, imagine early hunter-gathers. Early humans were driven by the most primal and basic instinct to survive. Picture one of our ancient ancestors (I’m calling him Fred) wandering the wilderness, trying not to get eaten by whatever predators were around at that time, and searching for things that he could eat to survive.

Fred comes across two berry bushes that he’s never seen before. He tastes a berry from one bush, and it’s sweet; he swallows happily. Then he tastes a berry from the second bush, and it’s very bitter; his instinct is to immediately spit it out. Fred gathers up the sweet berries — as hunter-gatherers were known to do when they weren’t hunting — gets a job at a rock quarry, raises a family and the rest is totally made-up history.

So why was Fred immediately drawn to choose the sweet berries, having never tasted either before? The answer is in his genes. Scientists like Garneau believe that the sense of taste is hardwired into the brain to recognize whether something you ingest is going to help you or hurt you.

A sweet taste is recognized by the brain as good, because sugar represents calories and calories are needed to sustain energy and outrun sabre-toothed tigers. The taste of bitterness is an immediate red flag to the brain that warns you something may be poisonous and should be rejected — just in case.

Other tastes provide similar alerts in the brain. For instance, salt is needed by the body (salty = good), while a sour taste might mean that the food is spoiled (sour = bad). A baby’s “yuck” face when she tastes bitter vegetables is her brain’s natural, instinctual reaction and is meant to protect her from ingesting anything harmful (also it’s hilarious and adorable).