Everyone knows a Beer Snob. The Beer Snob, or BS, believes their sophisticated palate, the result of careful cultivation, can discern between IPAs and lagers, saisons and lambics. To the BS, the difference between a Coors Light and a locally sourced, exclusively hopped craft brew is like night and day.
To the BS, science says: bullshit. Fitting, no?
During their attempt to break down the chemical makeup of beer, a team of German scientists at the Technische Universität Dresden’s Institute of Food Chemistry concluded that it’s impossible to chemically differentiate different beer types. Publishing an account of their research in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the researchers note that the levels of certain chemicals varied so wildly within beer samples of a certain style that attempting to do so between beer styles is ludicrous.
In other words, the Beer Snob’s claims of being able to differentiate between a porter and a stout are total bunk. The evidence is in the beer’s chemical makeup: The researchers were looking, in particular, at a class of chemicals known as Maillard Reaction Products, a group of compounds known to give beer its flavor and color. The MRPs are, unsurprisingly, the result of the Maillard Reaction — the same process that draws out delicious flavors from vegetables and meat as they’re browned the oven; in beer brewing, they’re released while grains are converted into booze-producing malt.
After measuring the levels of different MRPs in beers spanning pilsners to wheat beers to bocks, they concluded, rather obtusely, that there are differences between beers. In their paper, they wrote:
Differences in the patterns of protein-bound and free individual MRPs and the ratios between them were identified, which indicate differences in their chemical, biochemical, and microbiological stabilities during the brewing process.
In other words, they suggest that these particular components of beer flavor are incredibly complex — so complex that anyone claiming to be able to differentiate between them accurately is, frankly, full of shit.
That said, there are a wealth of as-yet-undiscovered other flavoring (and coloring) compounds in beer that might be more easily discernible. Just don’t mention it to your local Beer Snob, lest he or she become even more insufferable.