The Flavor of Sound

     Music moves the mood but beer fuels it. Have you ever been to a party without music…? Not much of a party. When you think of the sensory contributions of beer, there is one element missing: sound. It is noise that is not covered by beer. Yes I have heard people argue the importance of the pop of a cork, the crack of a cap, however these experiences are short-lived. And while these brief notes can be reflective of other tunes (i.e. the presence of carbonation), it is little to listen to. The song of your surroundings will be far more influential on your drinking experience. Considering this, beer and music are a natural accompaniment. Music provides beer with its missing element; creating a complete experience. Sensory evaluation is affected by a person’s physiology and psychology. Food and beer directly interact on the palate so their influences on each other are much more predictable than when beer and music combine. These two experiences are meeting in the mind and so are less tied to physiology then beer and food. This means that the pairings face a higher amount of subjectivity. That being said, studies have shown that music can not only affect a person’s perception of food and drink, but also be associated with different taste descriptors. So there are trends that can be made. While I have been tossing around this concept for years, I recently held my first event that tried to approach the daunting task of pairing beer with music. The following is my expedition into understanding beer and music pairing. Held at the funk zone-based Pescadrome, there were four pairings at the event and each one looked at the concept of pairing from a different angle. Artists have their own techniques with color and shape that becomes symbolic of their personal style. On that note, local beers were chosen so that I could coordinate the personality of the brewers with the spirit of their respective musician.

The Brewhouse’s Casey’s Black IPA with The Beatles’ I am the Walrus

     It felt necessary to begin the evening with The Beatles. But how could you choose only one song? In the end, I am the Walrus seemed to fit with how I wanted to start the conversation. This pairing was less reflective of the sensory characteristics of the two and more focused on the meaning behind them. There has been much discussion over the interpretation of this song and it is still unsure who the walrus is or what the lyrics even mean. There is a theory that John Lennon added nonsensical lyrics in to confuse people who were trying to analyze their meaning. The black IPA style has a similar debatable nature between beer geeks—from its origin, defining flavors, and even just what to call the darn thing (India Black Ale, Cascadian Dark Ale, etc.). The Brewhouse brewers, Pete and Casey, never take themselves too serious while still producing beers that are flavorful and well constructed. They will occasionally experiment with the grain bill and hop additions to produce small but intricate differences between batches—leaving regulars pondering over how they like a particular batch compared to the previous ones. One of the few certainties within the meaning of the song is the title’s reference to Lewis Carol’s The Walrus and the Carpenter. An Alice in Wonderland reference seemed appropriate way to begin a conversation that deals with subjects as complex as beer and music. In essence both the beer style and song are a bit of a rabbit hole so…how far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?

Santa Barbara Brewing Co.’s Graduation CAP (Classic American Pilsner) with Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1 in G Major

     This pairing was an attempt to theorize on how the form of the music can be paired with the characteristics of the beer flavor. Kevin Pratt is brewmaster at Santa Barbara Brewing Co. and as both a Certified Cicerone (beer Sommelier) and Level IV Grand Master Beer Judge, he pays special attention to stylistic definitions and balance in his brews. The calculative thought process that Kevin uses to craft his beers represents the theoretical and formulaic nature of classical music. The timbre (sound texture) of the flute worked with the delicacy of the floral hop aroma and complemented the lighter qualities of the Pilsner style. A respectful bitterness and fuller body in this unfiltered Pilsner was able to match the rhythm of the song while being soft enough to cleanse the mind.

Homebrewed Caravan with Erik Sumo’s Csillag Vagy Fecske (Star or Swallow) & The Real Mustache

This pairing looked at the subjective side of both music and beer appreciation by matching the music I want to hear with the beer flavors I want to taste. The beer had been inspired by my trip to Portland, OR for the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference where I was introduced to oatmeal IPAs. I partnered with local homebrewer Dan Reyes and we designed an oatmeal Double IPA brewed with New Zealand and American hops. The Czech band, Erik Sumo, is a personal favorite and combines a wide variety of music genres into a sound that becomes self-definitive and extremely difficult to stylize. Two songs were used to match the complex, rather outrageous, flavor of the beer. Both the beer and music illustrate innovation and a fusion of style. These two songs blend Middle Eastern harmonies with a pop-rock edge into an exhilarating exotic tune that is well represented by the succulent citric and tropical fruit aroma of the American and New Zealand hops used. Singer Kiss Ezra’s siren-like voice matches the beer’s silken body created from the addition of oats. The warmth of the alcohol and the brew’s cloudy orangeish hue reminds one of the sun setting over a sand dune and inspired the name of “Caravan”–because both the music and the beer are a trip across cultures and concepts.


Telegraph Brewing Co.’s California Ale with a live performance by Waters Risin’

For the end of the evening, and to build off of the the previous personalized pairing, I had Paul Rey, brewer at Telegraph Brewing Co., choose a band that he felt represented the flavors of their California Ale. Paul chose a three piece band, Waters Risin’, that features an acoustic guitar, cello, and an accordion. As one of their flagship brews, California Ale takes inspiration from several sources to form, in what I feel, is one of the most creative beers made in the area, if not all of California. Paul felt that Waters Risin’s “vintage sound” reflects the eclectic mood of their beer and our lovely state. Playing in an alcove adorned with soft textured materials and colors of deep reds and burgundies, the band’s gypsy-like sound worked well with both the area’s atmosphere and the beer’s flavors. The brew’s deep golden color added to the room’s warmth while providing a sweet impression from the fruity esters of Telegraph’s house yeast. The beer’s dryness cleansed the scene and refreshed one for the evening to continue.

Final Words

A recent moment at Eureka! Burger brought a smile to my face and summed up the point of all this. Weezer’s The Sweater Song came on and the instant recognition within my mind was more than just in mine. As I watched damn-near everyone’s head start bopping to the beat, I heard the words being sung underneath a couple’s breath upon their exit. Much like touch, our ears are continually taking in the elements, so the the next time you find yourself with a brew in hand pay attention to what else is around you. The contribution from your surroundings might be adding more to your experience than you’re aware of. And then again…it’s just beer. Goo goo g’joob.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s