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In this article Victoria Wells talks about styles and types of beer and how consumer choose which beer they want.
Photograph of six different beers in various glasses lined up on a table.
© Jon Parry on Unsplash

If you drink beer you’ll know that there are hundreds of beer types and styles.

From IPAs (Indian Pale Ales) to Stouts, from Session Pales to Lager, if you’re particularly interested in beer styles you can access the CAMRA Beer Styles guide on the CAMRA website.

In terms of UK pubs, the beer most associated with them is cask-conditioned beer, otherwise known as real ale, which is served from a cask (a type of barrel) in which it is allowed to condition (develop its flavour) and is served without the use of carbon dioxide through hand pumps mounted on the bar. CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) describes a cask conditioned beer served in a British Pub as an essential part of British Culture. However, more recently keg beers have become more popular, especially with smaller brewers. These are force carbonated and served using gas. The taste of keg beers is a little different with them being fizzier and colder but many brewers/publicans like them as they last longer and do not need as much care and attention as cask beers.

If you do choose to drink beer in the pub (or outside of it) there are many variables which might influence your choice of beer. Maria Betancur and colleagues did a review of research in this area and found that there were a number of consumer, product intrinsic, product extrinsic, contextual and environmental influences affecting choice of beer.

In terms of consumer variables, they suggest firstly that demographics are important. They suggest that drinking peaks around the age of 30 and decreases gradually with age but due to decreased sensory ability in older consumers there may be a shift towards stronger tastes/flavours. There also appears to be a trade-off between beer and wine with consumers starting drinking a similar amount with wine consumption then increasing while beer consumption reduces slightly. While not conclusive, they also suggest that men are more likely to drink beer than women, but acknowledge that the reasons for this are unclear and may be related to the advertising of both beer and other drinks. Education (lower education level being associated with beer) and cultural issues (e.g. Polish drinkers disliking fruity tasting drinks) also play a part. Genetic variables are also thought to be important in beer choice with some people more sensitive to 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) and therefore more or less affected by the bitter taste of beer. Genetics can also affect how sweet individuals like products to be, and also how they react to thermal status of products, each affecting what beers they may choose.

In turn they suggest that product-intrinsic attributes such as sensory taste and perception of beers (their flavour, temperature, colour, foam and head, alcohol content) all affect consumers’ choice. These preferences however change as a function of culture, country, region and demographics. Health attributes are also an important product intrinsic attribute affecting consumers behaviour, in particular whether the beer chosen is light (by calories), low alcohol (which we’ll return to later) and the product’s ingredients.

Additionally, they highlight product extrinsic variables affecting consumer choice. These aspects include branding, labels, packaging and container type and the information it contains. Noting the importance of colour of beer above, while cans keep beer fresher and protect it from sun damage, it can be hard for consumers to get a sense of the beer so may favour bottles. Additionally in the UK, research suggests that consumers rate beer as tasting better in a bottle. Glass type and size is also important with consumers more willing to consume if there was a congruence between the contents and the glass.

Finally, they highlight the importance of context and environment influences on choice. The style and type of retail environment (pub, bar etc) and the materials used in the setting were seen to affect beer choices and that beer choice would change with different ambiences. Additionally research suggests that people appear to enjoy drinks more when there is background music as compared to when drinking in silence.

The research also highlighted that there were significant differences in involvement between consumers. This links to work by Boak and Bailey (beer bloggers) who questioned how interested you should be in beer and stated that consumers should be:

“as interested as you want to be, as long as it makes life more enjoyable… If being fussy or analytical about beer makes you enjoy life less, then don’t do it.”.

This seems like good advice for any pub drinker.

Details about the full research by Maria Betancur and colleagues can be read in their paper: Betancur, M.I., Motoki, K., Spence, C and Velasco, C. (2020) Factors influencing the choice of beer: A review, Food Research International, 109360.

© Victoria Wells/University of York
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Pubs: History, Consumers, Management, and Protection

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