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Good Beer Doesn't Just Taste Better, It Sounds Better Too

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Beer.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEER POURING)

SHAPIRO: That sound can mean summer, picnics, barbecues, concerts, and now researchers have found that the sound a beer makes as you open it and pour it can influence our perception of its quality.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That's right. Charles Spence of Oxford University has studied similar phenomena, like how pleasant music can make bitter coffee taste sweet or how the sound of crashing waves can enhance a seafood dinner. As for this beer study...

CHARLES SPENCE: I had come across a design book in which they interview a German beer expert, and he claimed without any proof that he could discriminate a hundred different kinds of beer simply by the sound of opening, pouring.

CHANG: And he wondered, was there a kernel of truth to that?

SHAPIRO: So he teamed up with Carlos Velasco, who studies multisensory marketing at the Norwegian Business School, and with some funding from Asahi Breweries in Japan, they surveyed 200 volunteers on their reactions to various beer sounds, like the sound of beer pouring from a can.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEER POURING)

CARLOS VELASCO: It's a beautiful sound - alive, happy, nice, good.

CHANG: Then, Velasco says, they lowered the loudness of that sound and measured the volunteers' response.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEER POURING)

VELASCO: Less nice, less good, less happy, less alive. The louder the sound, the more premium or the higher quality the people assigned to it and the more willing they are to pay for the drink.

SHAPIRO: They also compared bottles to cans. Here's a bottle opening.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOTTLE OPENING)

CHANG: And now a can.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAN OPENING)

SHAPIRO: People preferred the bottle sound. They were willing to pay more and expected a better product.

CHANG: These sorts of insights can be useful to companies like Asahi, looking for a competitive edge for their advertising or packaging. The full results appear in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

SHAPIRO: Spence says scientists haven't always appreciated this powerful interplay between the senses.

SPENCE: When I started in Oxford teaching - and there was a vision professor and a hearing professor, and they worked next-door to each other for decades and never spoke because they hated each other. And it was like they didn't think they were missing anything.

CHANG: He has spent his career finding those missing pieces and learning how they influence the way we see the world.

SHAPIRO: And hear and taste and smell and feel it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "99 BOTTLES")

ZANE WILLIAMS: (Singing) No time to be frugal. There's 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. Take one down, and pass it around - 98 bottles of beer on the wall. Now, needless to say, I was pretty impressed as he handed me an ice cold beer... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.