Beyond ‘Roasty’: The Surprising Psychology of Stout

Rich, dark, deeply flavored, and sometimes beastly, stouts are a style that people don’t like—they love. Or hate. There’s no “meh” in stout-land. The near-universal rap from the haters is that they’re “heavy,” or strong, or filling, and occasionally they are. But one of the world’s most popular stouts isn’t even as strong, or rich, or filling as your average mass-market lager—it’s as light on its feet as a ballerina—and you can dance with her all night long.

Whether we’re a drinker or a brewer, our misperceptions revolve around our psychology—especially the way our brains integrate our senses and bring them to our consciousness. As tasters, we like to think we’re pulling apart the various threads of taste, aroma, mouthfeel, and that elusive synthetic construct called flavor. But that’s not how we’re built. Shaped by billions of years of evolution, our chemical senses are gloriously effective at translating the outside world into an action plan. The results of this unconscious sensory integration are notions that are strongly motivating, either attractive or repulsive. Analysis takes too much time in the heat of the moment; we’re not all that good at it anyway.

Our every sensory experience is shaped not just by the sensations of the moment but by a lifetime of expectations and experiences that set the framework for what is delivered to our window of consciousness. We rarely have access to the raw data. We struggle to focus on the parts when our mind really wants to give us the bottom line.

Colors, Names, and Other Lies

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