Why Some People Don’t Like Beer, According to Science

Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the U.S., but it still has plenty of haters. Those haters aren’t just going by some abstract preference, though. There are folks out there who are genetically beer averse, according to Live Science.

People who are more sensitive to bitter flavors and cold food and drink temperatures are less likely to enjoy beer. The former is especially important when it comes to determining who likes beer and who doesn’t. Early in human evolution, eating something bitter meant that you were eating something poisonous that should be spit out. Bitter flavor is like a plant’s way of saying, “Stop, I’m going to hurt you if you eat me.” Even plants that aren’t toxic use bitterness to fool eaters into thinking they are. The human body has 25 different bitter taste receptors (compared to just two for salt) to listen to bitter plant language.

“Bitter taste is considered a warning system for poisoning,” a study in the journal Chemosensory Perception states. “Many toxic compounds appear to taste bitter; yet, toxicity seems not to be directly correlated with the taste threshold concentrations of bitter compounds.”

As humans evolved, genetic variations occurred that changed how sensitive eat those 25 bitter receptors are. One portion of the population got the bitter end, one portion evolved to enjoy bitter (hello, Fernet-Branca lovers) and the rest land somewhere in the middle.

Of course, this only relates to hoppy beers like IPAs. Hops give beer their bitter edge when added to the boil during the brewing process. Plenty of styles of beer have a low amount of hops added, though, or have the hops added at a point during the brewing that adds less bitterness. So it’s not technically that people don’t like beer, it’s just that they don’t like hoppy beer like IPA (which is by far the most popular style, according to Craft Brewing Business). Sours, stouts and others are still in the clear—except for people who are extremely sensitive to cold.

Carbonation activates the cold receptors in our mouth much like minty gum does. Some people are more sensitive to that, which could also make them not like beer, Dr. Virginia Lovelace, professor emeritus at Cornell University, told Live Science. Life must be hard for those people, and not just because of the beer thing. Ice cream, smoothies, popsicles—all cold things that are delicious. Not all beer hope is lost, though. There’s always cask ale, which is generally served slightly under room temperature and is less effervescent. Or you could just make yourself a warm cocktail.