IPA Trilogy, Part Three – “Freedom of Choice”
Imagine you’re out to dinner with friends or family. You’re at your local brewpub, 427 miles from home. Maybe you’re at a super-cool new place in Koreatown where an owner of one of your all-time favorite breweries from the land of the long white cloud is hosting a tasting. You see a pork torta with pineapple and Oaxacan cheese that looks scrumptious, but your partner orders it first. Do you order it too?
Probably not. The hypothetical “I” in this situation doesn’t. The very real “I” never does when my friends and I go out for beers and the first people to order get IPAs. “Uh, sure, I’ll have the, um, gruit,” I’ll mutter. Inevitably, envy pokes its head through my spruce-tip-and-juniper-berry superiority complex when everybody starts raving about the complex interplay between the Meridian and Experimental 90125 hops in their refreshing, cold, perfectly balanced IPA (projection—I’m the only beer nerd who does that kind of nonsense).
Dan Ariely and Jonathan Levav examined sequential choices like these in real-world settings and, unlike the previously discussed experiments that have been extrapolated to IPA abandonment and adoption, one of their studies actually utilized India Pale Ale as a variable!
Dr. Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke, and Dr. Levav, Associate Professor of Marketing at Stanford, posed as servers at Chapel Hill, NC’s Carolina Brewery. They told customers (dining with at least one other person of legal age) they could sample one 118 ml beer free from the following list¹:
Customers in the “Collective” arm of the study had to order one-by-one, with all of their drinking compatriots hearing which beer they ordered. A separate “Independent” cohort also had customers getting free beer, but they chose their beer secretly, by paper ballot, without their drinking partners hearing their beery desire.
Did the Collective or Independent group like their beers better, on a 0-10 scale?
The Independent group, of course! In addition, the first chooser in the Collective group was significantly more satisfied with their beer versus later choosers in their group, and were significantly less likely to express regret at their choice1. Drs. Ariely and Levav concluded that “consumers are more likely to maximize enjoyment from consumption if they hold fast to their initial decision without being swayed by other group members¹.”
They also made a more succinct statement after acknowledging that their conclusion is, as most things in life, much easier said than done: always order first. Drs. Ariely and Levav then conclude their paper by instructing us antisocial humans to please consider “the desire to satisfy one’s tastes versus the need to be polite².”
When you find yourself at BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING COMPANY in charming Healdsburg, California, ordering first will be the least of your worries. You’ll be confronted with at least fourteen of the best beers here on the planet Earth. Logically, you’d get the sampler platter. Illogically, you should order the newest addition to their year-round menu, Hop Shovel (née Churchill’s Pale).
Hop Shovel is amazing. Mind-blowing. My unquestioned apex of IPAs (although Bear Republic’s seasonal Apex IPA is also really close to the top). It pours paler than expected, it’s slightly hazy, and after the pour is complete, piney, citrus peel, and lemon knot cookie aromas burst forth. The first drink is a spicy, pine foresty dream, much more aggressively hopped than Accumulated Knowledge and Cataclysm, but, now that I’m paying attention to these things, it’s the non-hop bitterness and the multigrain bread mouthfeel that grabs me and prevents any feeble attempts to put down my glass.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the malt bill for Hop Shovel includes wheat and rye. Apparently there’s a recurring theme to these three IPAs!
As Hop Shovel warmed up, I did notice more of that lemon knot cookie taste in the mouthfeel as the minutes wore on—not a cloying, malty sweetness, but more a savory citrus bitterness, like lemon juice-powdered sugar frosting. There’s also a bit of grassiness akin to Kiwi sauvignon blanc as the beer sits around for a while. Then, much sooner than I wanted, the last Hop Shovel from the six pack was gone, and the scheming to return to Healdsburg began anew.
Is the purported IPA downfall simply due to the ruggedly individualistic craft beer lover not ordering IPA when in company? It’s a reasonable argument, but is somewhat limited in scope. When our ruggedly individualistic individual is alone at the beer store, however, my gambling money’s on IPA being purchased.
Phew. So what have we learned from this IPA trilogy novella?
– Humans have such weird social and psychological pathologies
– IPAs and their countless subgenres are delicious and aren’t going anywhere
– Be a poseur
– You most certainly have access to many other fantastic, locally brewed IPAs³
– There’s an unmet need in the academic literature for more in-depth beer research
– Mouthfeel: so awkward to say, so essential for maximum beer enjoyment
– I’ll say it again (without sarcasm), in the land of the free: use your freedom of choice. It’s what you want. It’s what you got.
¹Ariely D. and Levav J. Sequential choice in group settings: taking the road less traveled and less enjoyed. Journal of Consumer Research 2000; 27: 279-90.
²Dr. Ariely also founded the awesomely named Center for Advanced Hindsight and studies dishonesty for a living (no publications appear to exist on his misleading turn as a server at Carolina Brewery, however). Find more info at http://danariely.com/
³Yes, all of these IPAs are from California and aren’t as accessible as I’d like. I hope to get my hands on more beer outside of the Southern California bubble this summer. I also believe regionalism for beer is a good thing—for example, read Andrew Gill’s excellent Pick Six column in the AV Club for great beers available in the Chicago area (and a Joanna Newsom reference). http://www.avclub.com/article/6-craft-beers-june-anheuser-busch-hasnt-bought-yet-256158