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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hey Kevin: "I can't grow a beard. What now?"

Darwin's beard
Welcome to our new information and advice column, Hey Kevin. Let's get started.

Q: Hey Kevin, Like many obsessed homebrewers, I aspire to become a professional one day. Just one thing worries me. My beard sucks. It’s patchy at best and sorry in general. It seems like a lot of pro brewers wear beards. What are my chances of succeeding in the beer world if I can’t grow a sweet face-coat?

Chuck in Bay City

A: It depends, Chuck. How are you at adapting?

Conventional thinking has it that brewers grow beards in order to identify each other in large groups of people. Recently scientists have uncovered evidence suggesting something else is at work: evolution.

Have you ever seen a bloodhound close up? If not, Google it. The distinctive wrinkly face and folds of skin have a very important job to do—they trap scent from the environment and direct it toward the bloodhound’s greatest tool, its nose.

Though the professional brewer is tracking neither rabbits nor escaped convicts, his face full of whiskers functions in much the same way, trapping scent in the thousands of empty pockets created by the confluence of individual beard hairs. It’s these pockets wherein aromas and even flavors are stored for future reference.

When a brewer scratches his beard, it’s not because his face itches; it’s because he’s working on a new IPA recipe. Said scratching prompts the release of microscopic chemical compounds which are directed toward the brewer’s nostrils, then up into his brain where they are combined to recreate (or rather pre-create) the beer that will eventually find its way into your pint glass.

Compelling research by Dr. Ernest Baron-Shaw of Grand Rapids State University has shown that different flavor and aroma compounds are stored in different subsections of the beard. For example, notes of caramel sweetness are found in the left sideburn, and the distinctive grapefruit quality of certain hops is common to the extreme right quadrant of the mustache. Interestingly, the entirety of the “goatee zone” appears to be a scent-neutral locale, storing different compounds at different times, all depending on the season.

It’s important to note that there are successful brewers who do not have any facial hair at all, particularly women but also many men in the industry. Dr. Baron-Shaw believes (and I agree) that these brewers have necessarily experienced positive biological mutations elsewhere. Studies show, for instance, that members of the beardless population typically score better in the Dalton taste-memory test. Armed with the pronounced ability to remember taste, it would seem the beardless have little reason to store a database of flavor on or near their faces. 

So, the question is ultimately one for you, Chuck. If you can’t grow a beard, in what way can you evolve?

Hope this helps.


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are Kevin's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Buzz staff or its parent company, Siciliano's Market. Have a question in need of answering? Submit it to


  1. Dear Kevin,

    I can't grow a beard either but my mutton chops are righteous. (Think Ambrose Burnside.)

    I find that my taste memory is deficient, especially the further I get into a Founder's six-pack.

    Is there any hope for me as a home brewer?


    1. Dear Robert,

      There's hope for you. It lies in practice and repetition.

      Drink enough Founders (maybe not all at once) and you'll begin subconsciously cataloguing flavor and aroma profiles. You might not notice it at first, or even have access right away to the information. But when a situation arises (and believe you me, Robert, eventually a situation will most definitely arise), you'll surprise even yourself with your depth and scope of knowledge.

      It's kind of like in the Karate Kid when Ralph Macchio doesn't know he's been in training until Mr. Miyagi starts throwing wicked puches at him. Without time to think, Ralph's subconscious takes over, beautifully deflecting all attack. Sure Ralph's new-found ability is remarkable, but it's not espeically surprising, not when the great Miyagi is his teacher.

      Founders is your Mr. Miyagi, Robert. Remember that.

      Thanks for writing.