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ECU foods professor wants more flavor in beer

(Mar. 18, 1994)   —   There are ales and lagers, lights and stouts, porters, bocks, pilseners and specialty brews. But the average American restaurant patron might never know it, and that's a shame, according to an East Carolina University beverage management expert.
Dr. Jennifer E. Crouch, a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management , is convinced that most beer drinkers are missing out on the flavor of good brews and it may be time for restaurants to help broaden the tastes of their customers.
Restaurants should use their menus to give their customers a beer flavor range, Crouch said.
In England and Germany, where beer is socially accepted as a food, restaurants and taverns offer as many as eight different brands on tap in varieties ranging from lights to darks and from lagers to ales. Consumers select their beer according to the time of day and to complement the food they eat.
In those places, customers would no more say “Gimme a beer!” than they would say “Gimme a dinner!”
Beer flavor, according to Crouch, is too rich and varied to be limited to a selection of brands that taste nearly the same.
The professor teaches courses on running restaurants and managing food and beverage selection. When it comes to beer, she has more than a sampling interest. She says she doesn’t care much for the trendy brews — the lights and “ices” — or any beer with a color other than gold or brown. American specialty beer made by micro breweries are her favorites because the brew makers pay particular attention to taste and to putting flavor in their products.
The subject so intrigues her that Crouch once worked at a small brewery in England just to learn how to make a fine beer. She also worked in product marketing for a large American brewer.
With this background, it’s no wonder she chose beer as the subject for her doctoral dissertation at Cornell University. She completed her Ph.D earlier this year.
The academic question for Crouch involved looking at how people acquire a taste for stronger beer flavors. Some social and cultural factors come into play here, and it appears that people in some regions of the country enjoy beer flavors that people in other parts of the country don’t care for very much.
Let’s face it. The first taste that most people remember about beer is bitter.
“It is an acquired taste,” Crouch explained. “Few people like it the first time, but most are willing to learn to like it.”
In Syracuse, N.Y., where she conducted part of her study, she discovered that beer drinkers followed the mainstream and picked the mild American pilsener brands.
But, in Seattle, Wash., where she also conducted research, most beer drinkers favored the stronger flavor of specialty beers.
Something else is interesting too. The beer consumers in Seattle have virtually the same taste recognition towards the bitterness in strong flavored beer as the drinkers in Syracuse. The difference is that the Seattle consumers chose to learn to like the stronger beer while the those in Syracuse did not.
Interestingly, she also found that a person’s taste for beer carries over to food. Someone who enjoys a strong, flavorful beer usually enjoys flavorful food too. Those that drink for flavor, according to Crouch, also demonstrate a greater sense of curiosity and enjoyment of adventure.
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