by Brian Campbell
Music is a surreal art form; one that has the ability to conjure memories regardless of time passed. It can elicit emotion in a matter of seconds and transport listeners to a place in time they hold dear. So too can beer, making for perhaps the most powerful sensory pairing imaginable.
Music and beer are my two greatest passions in life. For me, it’s nearly impossible to have one without the other. Some of my best times in my life involve the pairing of the two. I remember drinking Molson XXX at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto while seeing The Cure in 2001 on their Bloodflowers tour. As I’m writing this I can remember how the beer tasted, how the bottles felt in my mind and how drinking it made me feel a deeper connection with some of my favorite Cure songs such as “Prayers For Rain,” “Watching Me Fall” and “A Letter To Elise.”
When I remember certain beer, memories akin to that The Cure concert come flooding back. For instance, if I think about Alexander Keith’s IPA, I recall road tripping to the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto to see The Darkness and Foxy Shazam; Labatt Ice brings me back to 2000 and seeing Static X, Taproot, The Deadlights and Slaves On Dope at the old Runways; hanging out with Nashville-by-way-of Buffalo singer/songwriter Chris Nathan over tall boys of PBR and sharing one too many Molson Canadians with late Drowning Pool singer Dave Williams after a show.
Music makes beer taste better, plain and simple. If you don’t believe me about the power of the sheer synchronicity of beer and music, then believe actual science. In the world’s largest ever multi-sensory experiment, by matching the tastings, aromas and flavors to instruments, notes and soundscapes, Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, researched 3000 people’s reactions to taste, sound and light while drinking a selection of beer. The study found that changes in both color and sound can immediately change taste by nearly 10 percent.
For the study, Spence paired American wheat beers Goose Island 312 and Blue Moon with Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” concluding ‘both wheat beers suggested lazy summer evenings, the sun draining slowly over the distant skyline; and Blue Moon edged ahead through its, and the music’s, richly sweet timbre and notes of dreamy melancholia.’ He also paired Belgian blonde Duvel with The Pixies’ “Debaser.” ‘The grunge band’s hyper-ventilating guitar and surrealist lyrics set against Duvel’s frenetic blond bubbles and throat-grabbing, lip-wiring flavors.’
Community Beer Works also explored this topic in Dan Conley’s Music Box blog series by pairing Ithaca’s Box of Hops with a variety of albums. The lengthy experiment paired Double Zilla (Red Double India Pale Ale) with Terry Riley’s A Rainbow In Curved Air (‘a wonderful, perfect 40 minutes accompanied by a wonderful beer, helped doubtlessly by an 11% beer and memories of an old friend’), Dark Vine (Black IPA) with Turbonegro’sApocalypse Dudes (‘enjoyable all around, leading me to look forward to the final two beers’), The Creeker (Double IPA) and Amplify Dot’s Spare Parts 2 (‘I dig the beat, the flavors in the IPA are incredibly balanced and finally’), Flower Power (IPA) paired with Dungen’s 4 (‘the beer and album go together well: I find myself jamming to the music while appreciatively taking sips’).
Conley also explored Ithaca’s Box Of Belgians, drinking them alongside albums from Against Me!, Beyonce, Zoe Keating and EMA. Check it more over at communitybeerworks.com.
And he isn’t the only one that realizes the power of pairing music and beer. Thin Man’s head brewer Rudy Watkins recalls a fond memory of pairing beer with music, though, as he admits, the beer doesn’t have to be specific, nor even craft, to be special.
“The only thing I like more than beer is music,” Watkins said. “I don’t think there is a beer that I ‘like to drink with music, but I’ll drink whatever tastes good and is available at the time. It doesn’t have to be fancy either. I recently saw Do Make Say Think’s 20th anniversary show in Toronto at Lee’s Palace and the Molson Stock Ale was superb.”
Your homework now is to put this pairing to the test. We’re lucky to live in a city that offers not only a rich and vibrant music scene but also a booming and bustling beer scene. You can head out and catch live music on a nightly basis. So the next time you attend a concert, grab an ice cold pint and make a memory.