Written by Tom Becham for Professor Goodales
My wife and I recently dragged a friend to a local area winery in Fillmore, California, called Giessinger. Yes, I do occasionally do wine tasting just as hopefully many Professor Goodales readers do. I find it sharpens my palate for beer, and the reverse is also true. I can now appreciate wine in a way I wasn’t able to before I started seriously deconstructing beer flavors. It’s also good to enjoy a change of pace now and then.
Additionally, Giessinger is just a damn good winery, and I use any excuse to visit it.
But this piece is not about wine tasting, per se.
My aim is more to convince my fellow beer geeks to seek out and convert wine lovers to the pleasures of craft beer (however you may define that controversial term). We should convince wine lovers that good beer deserves an equal place at the table with good wine.
Many beer lovers will be open to trying fine wine, and many have already developed an appreciation for such wine. Unfortunately, there are a percentage of wine afficionados who regard beer geeks as little better than barbarians, and see our drink of choice as laughably unsophisticated and unvarying. Obviously, they’ve never sampled an Abbey Dubbel, a Flemish Sour, or an oak-aged Imperial Stout. Our task is to get them to do so.
As I explained to Rosie, our delightfully un-snobby sommelier at Giessinger, judging the world of beer based on the efforts of Bud/Miller/Coors, is like judging all wines based on the stuff in the box or the best efforts of Ernest & Julio. There’s just so much more to both!
So, where does the attitude of superiority of so many wine lovers come from? Like so many things in the western world, it originates in Rome. To Rome, wine was the drink of choice, and ale or beer was what Germanic and Celtic tribesmen drank. That attitude stuck even after the collapse of Rome and the domination of first European, and then world culture, by Anglo-Saxon sensibilities. However, both wine and beer have been the “drink of the common people” and which one your ancestors drank depended largely on where they were from: if from warmer areas, they drank wine; from cooler climes they drank beer.
Unfortunately, the judgment against beer also derives from the predominance of tasteless, crap-beer in the marketplace. The macrobrewers have dumbed down their product to the least common denominator, and the image of beer as a whole suffers as a result.
So, the question is, how do we convince wine lovers to even take us seriously when we suggest they venture into craft beer territory?
First, like it or not, we must develop a wine-speak vocabulary. When you can describe beers in terms of flavor and aroma components the way that your wine lover target might describe wine, you will be putting him on notice that you know what you’re talking about.
Second, talk, talk and talk some more about the great beers you’ve tasted, and even compare them to certain wines. We all know that the better Imperial Stouts will develop qualities like a fine port with aging. MENTION THAT! Talk about the champagne-like qualities of gueuze lambic, and the fruity flavors of English bitters.
Oude Gueze, poured, picture courtesy belgianbeerboard.com
Third, extol the virtues of beer and food pairings. Educate yourself in the works of Michael Jackson, and the more recent writings of Garrett Oliver and Sam Calagione regarding the matching of food and beer. Explain that beer is far more varied than wine (4 basic ingredients as opposed to 3, giving exponentially more possibilities) and far more versatile with food. Wine experts will advise a “medium sweet” wine with spicy food, but a nice IPA or Vienna lager will go far better with curry, Mexican or Thai cuisine than any wine. Likewise, sommeliers go crazy trying to match a wine to asparagus dishes, but beer handles it in stride. And cheese, classically considered the perfect match to wine, is even better with beer. Don’t believe me? Try a nice stilton with an English style barleywine and tell me it’s not like the two were invented specifically for one another.
What is the goal in all of this? What is the brass ring we are reaching for? Consider: how great would it be to go to a fine restaurant – virtually ANY fine restaurant – for dinner and find that the beer list is as extensive and selective as the wine list? Wouldn’t you like to have the products of New Glarus, Dogfish Head, Lagunitas or Great Divide alongside the offerings of Iron Horse, Beaulieu and Beringer? Well, we should all be able to enjoy such a choice.
Tom Becham lives in California, he’s a homebrewer and reviews beer, brewpubs, breweries and beer events for professorgoodales.net.