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Good Beer Doesn't Just Taste Better, It Sounds Better Too




SHAPIRO: That sound can mean summer, picnics, barbecues, concerts, and now researchers have found that the sound a beer makes as you open it and pour it can influence our perception of its quality.


That's right. Charles Spence of Oxford University has studied similar phenomena, like how pleasant music can make bitter coffee taste sweet or how the sound of crashing waves can enhance a seafood dinner. As for this beer study...

CHARLES SPENCE: I had come across a design book in which they interview a German beer expert, and he claimed without any proof that he could discriminate a hundred different kinds of beer simply by the sound of opening, pouring.

CHANG: And he wondered, was there a kernel of truth to that?

SHAPIRO: So he teamed up with Carlos Velasco, who studies multisensory marketing at the Norwegian Business School, and with some funding from Asahi Breweries in Japan, they surveyed 200 volunteers on their reactions to various beer sounds, like the sound of beer pouring from a can.


CARLOS VELASCO: It's a beautiful sound - alive, happy, nice, good.

CHANG: Then, Velasco says, they lowered the loudness of that sound and measured the volunteers' response.


VELASCO: Less nice, less good, less happy, less alive. The louder the sound, the more premium or the higher quality the people assigned to it and the more willing they are to pay for the drink.

SHAPIRO: They also compared bottles to cans. Here's a bottle opening.


CHANG: And now a can.


SHAPIRO: People preferred the bottle sound. They were willing to pay more and expected a better product.

CHANG: These sorts of insights can be useful to companies like Asahi, looking for a competitive edge for their advertising or packaging. The full results appear in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

SHAPIRO: Spence says scientists haven't always appreciated this powerful interplay between the senses.

SPENCE: When I started in Oxford teaching - and there was a vision professor and a hearing professor, and they worked next-door to each other for decades and never spoke because they hated each other. And it was like they didn't think they were missing anything.

CHANG: He has spent his career finding those missing pieces and learning how they influence the way we see the world.

SHAPIRO: And hear and taste and smell and feel it.


ZANE WILLIAMS: (Singing) No time to be frugal. There's 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. Take one down, and pass it around - 98 bottles of beer on the wall. Now, needless to say, I was pretty impressed as he handed me an ice cold beer... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.