Every year there are multiple annual beer releases that bring about great excitement. Those wonderful brews we look forward to each year. And every year, many are met with complaints that, “This beer was better last year.”
Was the beer really better in the past? Possibly. But there may be other reasons.
Better Last Year
Yearly beer releases will certainly see some change each time they’re brewed. Even if the recipe is unchanged, a number of other factors may impact the final product.
Changes to equipment and process that are less perceivable in year-round beers, may not be as easily accounted when a brewer only has one opportunity each year to brew a particular recipe. With just one one shot to get things right, there’s less opportunity to make adjustments. Year-round beers benefit from brewers ability to make tweaks each time they’re brewed, to zero in on the ideal end result. It’s far harder to make those tweaks when you only brew a batch or two of it each year.
While it very well could be true that a beer was better last year due to changes in the beer itself, that’s not the only reason, nor the most likely one.
We’re A Changin’
Maybe it’s not the beer that’s changing but rather, us.
Every one of us has had our tastes change over time. You probably started drinking macro beer before making the move to craft beer, or opted for hard liquor before beer. Very few of us started drinking craft beer as our first drink. Your tastes changed.
You’ve also likely experienced change in your taste for styles. Many didn’t care for IPAs when they started, or couldn’t stomach a sour beer the first time they tried it. But now we find that those are the styles we love most.
Just as we see change in the styles of beer we enjoy, the more subtle pieces of a particular beer may not appeal to us as much with time. For example, the Cascade hops we once loved, now we only like. Our changing tastes can cause us to enjoy the profile of one IPA more, while enjoying another less.
Even if a beer was EXACTLY the same one year to the next, it’s unlikely we’d enjoy it in the same way due to changes in our own tastes.
Another factor which plays a role in enjoyment is hype.
We can see this impact from price. As the price of a beer increases, we believe they taste better. A study by the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University measured the impact price plays on enjoyment of wine. They found that telling people a bottle cost more actually caused them to enjoy it more too. The areas of the brain that light up when we experience pleasure actually became brighter when people thought they were drinking a higher priced bottle.
Next time you want friends to really enjoy a beer, tell them it cost $100 a bottle, even if it’s just your 50¢ homebrew. They’ll actually enjoy it more, without the liquid itself being any different.
Limited availability makes a beer more desirable too. That feeling of exclusivity is just like price and causes enjoyment to grow. Look at how nearly every limited availability beer has seen less hype when the brewer expands production and distribution of that beer. While many write it off as simply changes in the liquid itself due to increasing production (effects of scaling up a brew), it’s far more likely that it’s a lot more psychological change within us, than the beer itself.
There are a number of things that can cause us to think a beer has changed each time it’s released. It’s not just the beer itself. Our own tastes, availability, and price can all impact how we perceive the final drink. Yet most believe the only change must be within the beer.
Being aware of other factors involved may help us to not get so down on the breweries and beer we once loved. Chances are the beer itself hasn’t changed but our tastes have. We should think twice before publicly criticizing loved ones.