Craft Beer And Your Brain

For BeerNexus.com


First off, I hope this finds everyone well as the last month has been quite a ride.

Most of us have at least a little more free time, although some if sequestered -in-
place at home with the entire family may just be looking for places to hide to get a
little piece and quiet once in a while.

Initially I’m sure most of us didn’t do a whole lot of productive things with our extra
time but after a week or so it’s time to start diving into those unread books, starting
and/or finishing the house and yard projects that there never was enough time for
and catching up on movies and programs that we’ve always been meaning to watch
and I’m proud to say I’ve been doing all three.

There are only a few TV shows I actually like to watch so that leaves a lot of time for
other shows when you’re relaxing at night; especially since there’s no baseball!
Opening Day was March 26th, so by now I probably would have watched over thirty
Yankee games! And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Mets or Phillies or Dodgers or Astros
(wait, does anybody root for out and out cheaters anymore!?) or Nationals, etc. fan
you are missing baseball, especially being cooped up like we are.

Over the years we’ve dvd’d many interesting shows and series so now’s the time to
start cranking through them. Here’s a six-hour PBS series, The Brain – The Story of
You, that aired in 2015, so it’s already 4 ½ years old. Not something you want to
watch an hour a month but fairly close together. I’ve always been interested in our
brain; the 24 hour a day/nonstop PC in our head that keeps our body going and
makes all sorts of decisions on all the things we interact with. If you think back to only
the basic stuff the cavemen did and what we do now it would seem that we can
increase the brain’s functioning and usage and we probably still have a way to go.
Hey we invented beer along the way didn’t we; that’s using the old noggin!

The author/presenter is Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, author, adjunct
professor at Stanford, Guggenheim Fellow and director of the nonprofit Center for
Science and Law. In addition to all that he met Francis Crick (1/2 of the famous
Double Helix DNA team) at Salk Institute and tutored with him for six years; impressive
credentials. Each hour looks at different issues and in the third he’s focusing on
decision making. He’s telling us that how we think we’re making decisions isn’t really
happening; that we all think we consciously look at the options available and make a
logical and/or emotional choice isn’t the case. Okay you’ve got my attention if my
conscious isn’t making it who is? He’s going to show us in many cases it’s the
unconscious mind doing most of the work. Making a conscious decision isn’t
instantaneous which is what we expect, it can sometimes take the brain some time to
mull through the options and then the logical and emotional parts wrestle it out till we
decide so the unconscious mind is kicking in some help. What? Tell me more.

As we experience things during our life, we build unconscious skills. I guess we could
think of it as a sort of muscle memory. Think about riding a bike; once you learn, the
more you do, the better you get so that old phrase; it’s like riding a bike, meaning
something we learned and know how to do. As we learn skills, we’re able to perform
them more rapidly and efficiently; we don’t have to think about it every time. We’re
developing “built in” circuits that let our unconscious mind assist in many repetitive
things we do like tying shoes, making coffee in the morning or even driving home so
we’re quicker and more efficient and allowing the conscious mind to focus on other
things. Reminds me of that other old phrase, practice makes perfect.

Well okay that seems to make sense, but now he wants to take it a step further and
look at a free solo rock climber. These folks are giving over complete control to the
unconscious mind basically blocking out the conscious emotional mind that when you
look down is ready to say “holy s—t it’s 200 feet straight down a rock wall and if I
make one mistake, I’m toast.” They’ve put themselves in a heightened state so they’
re not thinking about what they’re doing; they’re just doing it! Why would anyone
want to do that? Well duh if you’re 200 feet up on a rock wall, which I know I’ll never
ever in a million years find myself, then it’s probably a good idea.

All this has my brain spinning as he’s saying things don’t really work the way I thought
they did. As I take a swig of my beer I start thinking; how does this relate to me when I’
m out having a few with the guys? Well if practice makes perfect then I’ve done my
share of practicing so my brain has been storing knowledge from my many sessions
of tasting, so can my unconscious mind be making the decision which beers I’m
ordering and is that good or bad?!?!  

When I’m out I always like to go “up the ladder” so I’m drinking the lower ABV, lighter
lagers or ales first, then stepping it up to probably an IPA, then it’s on to a stronger
IPA, DIPA or maybe even an imperial stout. Since this is how I typically operate this
could easily be my unconscious mind; I’ve done it hundreds of times and it doesn’t
really take any complicated thought process so yea makes sense.

Each time I’m out the draft list is different so I have to peruse the list to find my three
likely beers for the day but a lot goes into that, doesn’t it?? First time through I’m
looking at brewery and beer, then I’m looking at ABV and I’m also looking at quantity
and price; damn I’m surprised I didn’t setup a spreadsheet to plug this all into to help
me track. But that’s not all as I have the current PhD list and also the can/bottle list
as there may be something on their I’d like to try and possibly get a punch. Hey it
sounds like a lot of input and possible options to me; I don’t care how much practice I’
ve had no way my unconscious is making decisions. I’ll grant it could be helping as a
brewery I like vs one I haven’t had much good stuff from could and does easily get
factored in so that could be coming out of my unconscious.

There could be a great upside to this understanding! The more I can learn and train
my brain to understand and chose the best craft beers “for me,” as my tastes are
mine not necessarily the same as everyone else’s, the better my experience. But
what’s the optimal place? Why would we ever want to get to a place where we let our
unconscious mind make all our craft beer decisions; that doesn’t sound like a lotta
fun, it sounds like “Drinking without Thinking”!

Timing is everything, I just finished my beer and could definitely use another one. Oh,
crap if I go to get another one then I’ll have to think about how I’m making the
decision; maybe I’ll just have some water till I get a little further along in my training.
NO, I want another beer so I’m headed to the frig and boy did I luck out; there’s only
one left so that was a “no brainer” chose. Now yes, I have others in the downstairs
frig so if I head there I could ponder my choices, but not now, no way Jose, I like the
one I found.

I wonder what my beer buds will think when I begin discussing this with them?? They
may just say it gives them a headache and want to talk about something else or
maybe they’ll be interested.

Damn I’m tired and my brain hurts from all this analysis and thought. But if you see a
guy with a white hood with a bunch of electrodes attached to it in the bar next time, it’
s probably me getting an eeg to see what my brain is actually doing while I’m ordering
and drinking my craft beer. I wonder if I can get a research grant to see what my
brain is doing while I’m selecting and drinking? They’ve done research on far dumber
things than that. And I’d love to present my research at the world renowned
thinktank, the Great American Beer Festival of course. There would be more
attention paid there than anywhere else, although it better be a morning session,
only of course so I can spur they’re thinking and reflecting during the day. Wait, you
thought it’s because the later in the day the less people have senses dulled from
drinking all day; seriously?

And then on to the next level; identifying the actual beer gene! Please don’t scoff I’m
fairly convinced there must be one. They’ve been identifying genes that are
responsible for diseases so the logic is there must be one. And if you don’t think so
let me just ask you this; why do some drinkers keep going back for their Bud Light,
Coors Light, Miller Lite, etc. and we craft beer drinkers are out there exploring
different styles and breweries?? Ah, didn’t think you’d have an answer for that…

The thoughts are flying through my head so fast I can hardly think; there’s definitely
smoke coming out my ears. I think I’ll get an ice pack; oh, and yea I’m headed
downstairs to put all this newfound knowledge to work and get another craft beer…


Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
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