Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Your taste for alcoholic beverages is a lie

UPDATE: I perform this blog post on my YouTube site.

I've previously blogged about my non-addiction to alcohol, and inability to taste its greatness. It has long perplexed me how people can get so hyped up about how this or that beer or wine has this or that subtlety in its taste that makes it so enjoyable and the best drink you could ever possibly have. And, at the same time, I have accepted, with open arms, the claim that certain people like alcohol because of its psychoactive effects, like "relaxation" and drunkenness.

I've long held the theory that people only make these claims about the super-awesome taste of alcoholic beverages as a pretense for their desire to get drunk (or relaxed, etc.), and I've been roundly ridiculed for it. However, unlike socially-mandated beliefs that people readily admit are garbage in private, people actually claim, in private, to enjoy the taste of their favorite alcoholic drinks and, amazingly, retain that belief to arbitrarily deep levels of "belief in belief" recursion. They see no sense in which they are faking.

But now, I have cracked the code. I know how to get people to recognize their own self-deception about the supposed greatness of the taste of their favorite wine or beer. It goes like this: if you genuinely enjoy the taste of your favorite alcoholic drink, then you should still want to drink it more than any cheapo kiddie drink, even if all it has is the taste -- that is, if it no longer had the psychoactive effects.

So, I did a quick sample among the co-workers of mine who have claimed to, like, seriously, I promise, be wine or beer connoisseurs and are perplexed at how there could be no alcoholic beverages that I like the taste of. I asked them the following question:

Assume that alcoholic drinks had no psychoactive effects whatsoever: that they don't make you relax, or open up, or get drunk, anything like that. And assume no drink has any impact on your body either, including health (such as making you fat). That is, assume all that there is to a drink is its taste. Then, comparing on taste only, would you rather have your favorite alcoholic drink, or a milkshake?


Every single one of them preferred the milkshake -- even the one beating down the door to get me to start liking wine. And I strongly suspect (and would like to test) that this holds across the general population as well.

The upshot is that I'm right: that the whole practice of rating and having a taste for alcholic drinks is one big sham, and people have extraordinary abilities to deceive themselves on the issue -- they are completely oblivious to the lie they are telling, well beyond the obliviousness they can show on any other issue.

So what would make people put on such an act? Simple: they need a rationale to convince legislatures not to ban alcoholic drinks, as they ban every single other mind-altering substance. They need to show how it's a "tradition", how it's "cultured", how it's a fundamental part of our society, how oh oh oh, I just gotta have my glass of wine with dinner, it's just so mature of me. And the crazy thing is, from my perspective, they don't even need these rationales. As I see it, your decision to drink alcohol is between you and your god (or Dionysus, as the case may be). Even if the most extreme claims about the dangers of drugs are correct, that would at best justify restricting their use to highly monitored "padded room" equivalents in which such consumption can take place, not outright banning.

And to top it all of, I bet the response I'm going to get to this post is a big, "Duh. Now shut up about it."

So, I find myself asking this question yet again: is the world crazy, or just me?

41 comments:

Bob Murphy said...

I wasn't privy to your arguments, and maybe some pro-alcohol people really said ridiculous things.

But I don't think people are wrong for identifying a unique taste with an enjoyable experience. If Pavlov's dogs told you they really enjoyed the sound of that bell, why would you get mad at them and wonder if the world is crazy? Isn't it a lot easier to say, "Yeah I believe you dogs that you get excited by the bells but that's only because you been conditioned to react that way..."

Silas Barta said...

That's an good analogy, Bob. I can accept that people can be conditioned to like a particular experience, which may contain drinking alcohol. I'm the same way for a lot of experiences, and could probably write them down some time.

But unlike dogs, people are capable of abstract thought. I expect them to be capable of recognizing the artificiality of their love of the taste of alcohol long before I ask them The Milkshake Question. But instead, they have beer/wine competitions, and fabulous (unscientific) tests that claim to isolate the taste, from which they crown winners. (Let's not forget, at such competitions, they avoid swallowing so as to eliminate the psychoactive effect.) There's no "social atmospheric noise" there.

And they vigorously flaunt their ability to discern the flavors, have a "favorite" drink, argue about various beers and beermaking processes, etc. (You did *not* want to be a tourist in my blood vessels the day two guys talked about beer brewing in my office and I couldn't stop them or leave.) Shouldn't they be able to admit that farce in private?

And why can't people just take some kind of pure version of alcohol (injection, quick shot of everclear, patch, etc.) while at bars, and then just drink what actually tastes good? And so on.

macsnafu said...

There are so many ways to look at it, I'm not sure which is most important. I generally agree with you that alcohol doesn't taste that good--I usually make mixed drinks or wine coolers precisely because they taste better that way.

I would say of course it's cultural, and/or social. In Europe, at least, there was something of a justification for alcohol originally because of their limited fresh-water supplies, and over time it became culturally ingrained. But that's obviously not a valid reaons for all times and places.

As for wine-tasting, I don't know. Obviously different types of alcohol have different flavors. Beer doesn't taste like Rum which doesn't taste like whiskey, etc. It seems reasonable that there would still be slight differences in taste between different brands and vintages of the same kind of alcohol. What doesn't seem reasonable is how one can be "better" than another--wouldn't it merely be a subjective preference?

macsnafu said...

I had another thought about this. Sure, there are wine-tasting tests, but that's wine! How many beer-tasting tests are there? How many people extoll the flavor of Jack Daniels or Everclear? Why do drunks prefer Thunderbird over a fine brandy? In short, there seems to be a clear relationship between alcohol flavors and sobriety. The more it's about flavor, the less it's about getting drunk, and vice versa. So what does that say about your theory?

Silas Barta said...

Macsnafu, my argument was that it's never about flavor, even when it seems to be. Wine contests (and yes there are beer contests) are more about the judges signaling their social status and cover for alcohol users getting drunk than about actual physcial qualities of the wine, and they never use scientific-grade protocols for ensuring honest judgment.

And remember, when I refer to "getting drunk" I mean benefiting from any of the psychoactive effects of alcohol. So the claim is that people drink alcohol because it helps them e.g. relax, even if they don't drink enough to get drunk.

As for the taste of more concentrated form of alcohol:

-Yes, people absolutely do claim to enjoy the taste of whiskey/bourbon/Jack Daniels. I had a neighbor offer me some kind of drink with ice, I think bourbon, and made quite a show of saying how much he liked the taste. It's been the same way in any context I've been where people have liquor: gotta talk about the taste.
-When I read the packaging of some brandy I bought, it did brag about the subtleties of its taste, and it was a cheap one.
-People do in fact find it harder to convincingly extol the virtues of Everclear's taste, and Everclear does suffer a social stigma on that basis.

tolchocked said...

I would sometimes prefer the milkshake, but there are also definitely times that I would prefer the Samuel Adams Summer Ale, or Sierra Nevada. There is nothing quite like a nice summer ale on a hot summer day. The taste is wonderfully satisfying in a way that a milkshake or a coca cola is not. Sweet things don't satisfy the same need that savory things do.

And yeah, I'd still drink them even if they had no alcohol content. I might drink them less frequently, because the mild effects of one or two drinks ARE a factor, but they are not the only factor, and taste is definitely a factor.

No doubt, some people probably drink only for the effects and don't like the taste, but many of us like the taste too.

The fact that you cannot believe some people love the taste of beer is not so surprising though, as it just reflects a lack of appreciation for the breadth of variety among human beings. For every food you can imagine, including things that many people LOVE -- like chocolate -- you can find some people who think it doesn't taste good and that can't understand why other people like it so much.

With chocolate though, there are more that love it than love beer, and additionally there was no time (like teenage years w/ alcohol) when one's peers ate it only for its physiological effects and because they thought it was cool to eat it, so one is less likely to think that people ONLY eat it because it is cool and/or its effects and not also because they like the taste.

Vera said...

Sorry for commenting on a post so late:

It's funny, just today I was really annoyed by the insufficient variety of non-alcoholic beer in the stores.

If all my favorite beers and wines were available in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions, my total consumption of beer and wine would go up, and my consumption of drinks containing actual alcohol would go down, but not by much. It's quite fun to get drunk, but often I want the taste without the psychoactive effect.

Kyle Eliason said...

Alone, I'd say you're right about the milkshake. But with a meal, different beers and wines make great accompaniments. I can think of a large number of dishes I'd rather drink beer or wine with than a milkshake.

For example, salmon and a milk shake? Yuck.

Anonymous said...

It goes like this: if you genuinely enjoy the taste of your favorite alcoholic drink, then you should still want to drink it more than any cheapo kiddie drink, even if all it has is the taste -- that is, if it no longer had the psychoactive effects.

No. I genuinely enjoy the taste of my favorite alcoholic drinks, only slightly less than milkshakes. It's the combination of good but not milkshake-good taste and alcohol that makes the overall experience better than non-alcoholic drinks.

Boogliodemus said...

I'm with ya. I once set out several bottles of wine we had been given as a gift. Everyone was commenting on the quality until someone noticed it was non-alcoholic. Nobody drank a drop after that. They drained a bottle of Smirnoff though. These were all Yuppie types who can go on and on about wine. I've also always thought that the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Martini were just ways of asking for straight booze without looking like a lush. I myself drink for effect but have noticed how I seem to be the only one in the room to admit it.

steven said...

I suspect the same thing is true of coffee.

Lara said...

Ah, but you did not offer them an alcoholic milkshake! What about a Baily's Irish Cream milkshake? Or a Rum-Raisin? Or Mohito Madness sorbet smoothie! Mmm.... minty, limey, rummy goodness. Maybe creamy, fatty, sugary things just win. It's not a fair comparison.

Now if they'd prefer a diet coke... blech... that would be pretty strong evidence that alcohol doesn't taste good.

I actually have the problem that I often want wine with dinner for flavor release/complementation, but do not want to get intoxicated. It is a pickle.

Dana H. said...

Your argument is a lie (or at least fallacious).

By the same logic used in your test, I can "prove" that no one really likes the taste of hamburgers by asking the following question: "If you could have a steak or a hamburger, based purely on taste, which would you choose?"

Just as sometimes I'm in the mood for a steak and sometimes a hamburger, I'm sometimes in the mood for a milkshake and sometimes for alcohol -- based purely on taste (since I never have more than 1 drink). In particular, based on taste alone, I would MUCH rather have a Guinness than a milkshake to go with a slice of pizza.

Siscoe said...

Commenting late, but what are you going to do (besides delete, I suppose).

I prefer dark beers over most anything. President's Choice (in Canada) makes a great non-alcoholic dark beer that I drink when I'm preparing for a marathon. O'douls, also, is very good.

Now - whether everyone is like that, i don't know. My wife is not - she drinks for the effect.

Anonymous said...

You have probably never had really good beer.

A top-of-the-line primo beer (like certain Belgians) is utterly sublime. I's rather drink that than anything on this earth, regardless of the effects of alcohol.

You will find, though, that absolutely no non-alcoholic beer made tastes as good. I don't know why, but it's true.

Anonymous said...

"You will find, though, that absolutely no non-alcoholic beer made tastes as good. I don't know why, but it's true."
This is unfortunately true and muddies the waters further in proving people like beer just for the taste. Most wide distributed beers taste disgusting, some microbrews do as well, but the ones that have great tastes are awesome. Ive often wished there was a niche market on microsodas so that all the tastes of soft drinks could be explored.

Some people drink to get drunk. some drink for taste. Some drink for both. FYI a beer is much healthier then a milkshake for you.

inpatient treatment said...

One thing that will eventually hit a person due to alcohol addiction are the diseases caused by it. The advice to be followed by people who are drawn into alcohol addiction, is to stop drinking in order to have a healthy living.

dante said...

I noticed that the farther down this forum I read, that the more people lost the point of the milkshake test. They seem to have forgotten that there is no alcohol in the other option. It is basically cold liquid. If you say you would take that, you are a liar. And maybe even on the verge of being an alcoholic. Sorry but its true. Think im wrong still? Go chew on some barley or hops and tell me if its good. Wine doesn't count because it is made with grapes. Grapes taste good to most. And tell me this, if beer is so great, then why hasn't Odoells put coca cola out of business yet? It is Psycologically in your head that you like beer. Its not your tounge that likes it, it is your brain!

Anonymous said...

dante,

you need to take a course in basic logic and critical thinking.

if you would expect people who like beer to enjoy eating raw hops, you should also expect people who like bread to enjoy eating raw wheat from the field. well, do you?

tetrafarmakos said...

Of course people prefer something tasty to alcohol!! The only reason people drink is for it's psychoactive effects! This is a given, and THEN they choose what tastes better!

But experiments are always fun, even if they're just stating the obvious! ;) I loved this post!!

Tyler said...

Duh, people enjoy alcohol because of the effects and a major plus is that many forms of achohal tast pleasing... It's not rocket science. We normaly don't put things in our mouth unless it's pleasing or our survival depends on it. Like you stated in your revolutionary example why do most people like milk shakes and fatty food over water and kale? Because thousands of years of evolution have trained us that fats and sugars have lots of calories = survival. Alcohol has pleasing effects so it's no shocker people want to consume it. There are many forms of alcohol most of which tast like ass. Big shock man developed pleasant tasting beer, wine and spiritsits to make drinking a more holistic experience. I call BS on your friends that say they only drink for the tast but I agree 100% that drinking good booze with good food around good friends is better than only the latter.

Fountain View said...

In general I agree with the author's premise. BUT. It is possible to 'like' an alcoholic beverage strictly for the taste.

I love the taste of a liqueur known as Drambuie. It is the only alcoholic beverage I will imbibe. And only a single 'shot' a day. Room temperature and sipped over a period of thirty or so minutes.Absolutely delicious.

At 6'3 and 215 pounds I seriously doubt this drink has any physiological/psychoactive effect on me. But the taste! scrumptdelishios.

nemspy said...

I absolutely hate the taste of alcohol. I choose my drinks based on their ability to hide its flavour. I can barely get a swallow of even the "best" red wine down without wanting to gag.

All I use it for is a calming potion at stressful times of the year.

Bill said...

I disagree with the alcohol "taste" not being desired. Keep in mind that it is an ingredient, not a end game desired taste. A proper cocktail or even straight up well-crafted whiskey holds a large variety of aromas, the achohol adds something no other ingredient can, a dry, warm backbone that is honestly hard to describe. I would NOT drink the milkshake, I find them too sweet, but I enjoy the complex flavors of a good beer or craft liquor.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dana H. I like sour patch kids. And jalapenos. Many people don't like either of those. How is that different from some people liking the taste of a good wine? (Or I guess a good beer, or a good hard liquer?)

Seriously. Don't be naive. People like different things.

Unknown said...

I'm an alcoholic and can't stand the taste of beer or straight liquor! And the author of this conversation is correct why sod you only drink it at cetain events or the weekends,my point is your all full of it it is naturally repulsive to the taste buds and body in General to consume ethanol. Yah ethanol that's what your drinking and alcohol is a drug your all drug officianados alcohol is an anesthetic and if enough is consumed you could be operated on! Literally!! So stop with with the I prefer bud over Miller or blah blah blah 7 needs in you'll drink a 40 of millwaukees worst best beer. The I have partying swag and bravado what the he'll would you drink something with alcohol unless you like how it makes you feel. So you like it that doesent make you an alcoholic, but you do like the effect over the taste!so cut the bullshit!

Anonymous said...

If you took a soda and removed its sugar/carbon dioxide, would you still drink it? See, water is the best and people who prefer soda are just deluding themselves.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear you have missed the point. Sugar tastes good, that is why people consume it. Even if you removed all other effects, people will eat deserts and drink sugary drinks.

Acholol tastes awful, it is a poison after all. People drink to get high, if they couldn't get high they wouldn't drink. I have no problem with people getting high, my problem is those who use alcohol as their drug pretending that getting high has nothing to do with why they drink.

The op's test shows that isnt about flavour, it is about the high.

Andy Bueno said...

Great post!!

Andy Bueno said...

Great post!!

Anonymous said...

I can only speak for myself here, but I can say with absolute certainty that I would drink any common drink (water, soda, juice, coffee, beer, wine, liquor) over a milkshake. I don't like milkshakes. They are sickeningly sweet. By choice, I haven't had a milkshake since I was a kid. I don't like most juices or sodas either. I don't drink sweet wine or sweet mixed drinks. I like black coffee, ice cold water, beer, unsweetened tea and dry red wines in that order.

I know its must be hard to imagine that some people are not interested in sweets,especially sweet drinks, but it happens. Even desserts, sweets and candies I usually only eat a little to be polite if I'm at someone house for dinner. If beer and dry wine tasted the same and had no alcohol I would absolutely, without a doubt still drink it over any sweet drinks. I would have even have non alcoholic beer and wine over any alcoholic sweet drink.



Dc Liquorstore said...

let you to taste new Ciroc - Vodka France you forgot all other alcoholic beverages

John said...

I think people "prefer the taste" compared to other alcohols.

The Old Brick Inn said...

I would 100% take the good wine drink - without any effects - over the milkshake. I love the taste of good wine, not bad wine, I can't stand beer.

Unknown said...

If I could drink all the vodka in the world with no effects other than the taste, well sign me up because vodka is my one true love that I can consume, I actually really hate being drunk and try to pace myself as to not get too drunk but I can't stop the pull of the alcohol burning and that warm feeling in my chest as it slides down my esophagus to my stomach! However place a beer or wine in my hand I don't care if it makes my chest warm or not, that shit is nasty and I will spit it out every time! I have yet to try whisky and I much prefer strait liquor over mixed drinks and cocktails.

Frances said...

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. Thank you for sharing width it. Please also come and visit into my website at http://www.alcoholaddiction.com/

Sire said...

Thank you for your such a wonderful blog! This post was really amazing. I hope that more people will have time to read this article and share this to everyone especially for teens and students that are having this kind of problem and help themselves fight this kind of illness. Thanks for sharing.

Jimmy said...

Thank you for your such a wonderful blog! This post was really amazing. I hope that more people will have time to read this article and share this to everyone especially for teens and students that are having this kind of problem and help themselves fight this kind of illness. Thanks for sharing. You may also can check and visit my working website at http://www.alcoholaddiction.com/

Anonymous said...

I would 100% choose to drink alcohol free beer over a milkshake. A dynamic high quality beer contains fair more diverse flavors than a milkshake.

This amount of stupidity in the comment section and this article is absurd.

Max said...

Great Post, I love to read articles that are informative and actually have good content. Thank you for sharing your experiences and I look forward to reading more. Please also come and check my working website at http://www.inpatientdrugrehabilitation.com/

Kabal said...

Thank you for this blog! it`s helped me a lot to know more about all information of those rehabilitation centers that have near with us. You've a good point here! Once again thank you sharing this post. Please also come and visit into my website at http://alcoholabuse.com/