Researcher David Kareken looked at brain imaging data on 49 men who sipped some beer -- too little for the alcohol to create a high -- and checked for evidence of the reward-related brain chemical dopamine.
"The mere taste of beer, absent any significant dose of alcohol, was itself sufficient to produce a dopamine response within the brain's reward centers."
Personality traits such as extroversion and reward seeking have been linked to higher sensitivity in the dopamine system.
Kareken noted beer's flavor would be reliably associated with its intoxicating effects. In this case, the taste alone triggered a jump in dopamine levels, the study said.
The response was significantly stronger among those with a family history of alcoholism, Kareken said.
The study was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.