Five years ago I read an article about a study at Heriot Watt university that had found different styles of music could ‘improve’ the flavour of wine. In a controlled experiment, wines paired with the ‘right’ style of music tasted 40-60% better than those paired with the ‘wrong’ style.
Obviously I stole the idea and applied it to beer. There’s a broader range of styles and flavours to play with, and music and beer as I know them go together much better than music does with wine – both have a communality and approachability to them, with the option of going for more obscure, difficult stuff if you prefer.
I started having fun matching things by theme, season and mood, but also terroir, attitude and a slight smidgeon of taking the piss.
Eventually though, I was put in touch with neuroscientists who showed me there’s much more to it than that. Neuroscience in its current form has been around for less than twenty years, because contemporary brain imaging technology, which shows us what bits of the brain light up in response to different stimuli, is very new. Incredibly, in the 21st century we are only just starting to figure our how the brain really works. And we’re learning that there’s much more to our so-called ‘five senses’ than previously thought. They overlap, support each other, and sometimes become confused or blurred. Unwittingly, I’m conducting experiments that are not too dissimilar to what’s happening in the new field of neurogastronomy, or would be if I conducted them more carefully and with less mucking about.
This has set me off on an exploration of the senses and how the brain works. I never did any science subjects at school or college after the age of fourteen, and now I’m learning to love the laboratory all over again, reading up on everything from soundwaves and molecular gastronomy to the philosophy of aesthetics and the ‘Proustian effect’ of sense memory.
My talk on beer and music is sprouting all sorts of new tentacles. I rewrite it after every single show, taking on board what I’ve learned, bolting on new experiments, refining the pairings, polishing up the presentation, ditching the bits that don’t work. Having gone from ditching most of the show each time and starting from scratch, it’s now starting to feel pretty solid.
I’ve no idea where this will end up – as a book, radio show or event at the Edinburgh Fringe (all have been suggested to me) – but right now it’s becoming one of my core obsessions. At the heart of it are six pairings of great beers with music tracks that I love. They go together in different ways had tell us different things about how we perceive the world around us.
Some audience members think the whole thing is rubbish. Others find it seismic in changing their perceptions. Some cynics are won over; some enthusiasts go away confused and unsure. Whatever happens, and however much you buy the central conceit, it’s an enjoyable hour of great beer and great tunes, with added science, anecdote and trivia.
The following week I’m repeating the event in London, at the Ivy House. This pub hit the headlines a couple of years ago when it was seemingly doomed to closure, but was saved when the community bought it. It’s now a thriving craft beer-focused pub with a legendary musical heritage. I’m honoured to be be matching beer and music there on 8th May. Tickets have just gone on sale here.
Please come along and help me create a beer tasting event quite unlike any you’ve witnessed before.