Pete and Dave both discussed this last week and I thought I’d add my piece to this interesting and complicated issue.
First of all, never tell anyone that beer is the new wine. Those old-school beer chaps don’t like it and jump right down your throat, aghast at the mere thought. But beer and wine, whatever you say, can be comparable and through a certain necessity, I think, need to be comparable.
In this I am not addressing John Smith down the pub supping his bitter. To him, beer is beer and nothing more. I’m also not addressing Jonty Smith, swirling and sniffing his vintage plonk. To him, beer is common man’s liquid bread. This is pitched down the middle at the discerning others. The way I see it, if you want to talk about beer then you need to use a certain type of language and that language has already been established: wine speak. Sure, we can ‘bloke’ it up, but we are essentially using the same technique to talk about what a beer tastes like and why it tastes that way. To most it probably doesn’t matter how it tastes or why it’s like that, but it does to me and I’m hoping, as you are reading this, that the way the beer in your glass actually tastes is important to you (whether you wish to describe it or not). To say that the aroma is fruity or the body is full or the finish is dry is to use wine speak. It’s something which beer has, like it or not, inherited.
A movie is a movie, some are better than others, some people intellectualise them, others watch them as pure release. I have a degree in ‘watching films’ so I often look a little deeper into them. To use Woolpack Dave’s examples, I like books too, and certain types of music, but I don’t care for cars or electronics. Beer is not the new wine. New wine is the new wine, if you get what I mean. Beer is beer - it always has been and always will be - but there is an interested section of drinkers who want to talk about it in a different way to others and just because they use a wine-established language does not mean that the two drinks are mutually exclusive.
Many argue that beer doesn’t want to be intellectualised, but why not? Why not add an element of understanding, a degree of interaction with the beer? The majority, as Pete Brown points out, don’t care beyond whether it’s red or white, lager or bitter, but sometimes a little nudge of information can go a long way. Did you know that grape only grows in Northern Italy? Did you know this beer is made using water drawn from an ancient well? Did you know those hops are a new variety? I’m all for people having more of an understanding about what they are putting in their mouths because it naturally creates a more discerning mentality.
Take food. If you understand it, how it works, how to cook things and how ingredients taste then there is a natural progression in what the eater chooses and that dish made with exotic ingredients suddenly becomes accessible. If you know a little about wine then you can also attempt to choose something to compliment the food. And how many books discussing beer and food compare a full-bodied red wine to a stout, a pale ale to a chardonnay, or discuss how hops in beer are equivalent to acidity in wine? This is because wine and food pairing is an established and appreciated practice. It’s not raising beer to a different level, it’s merely levelling it with wine on a flat playing surface: the dinner table.
Why can’t we look at beer in the same way as wine? Does it really matter if beer is held in greater esteem, if people talk about it like they talk about wine? To be honest, if someone wants to care about beer then they will, if they don’t then they will order their pint blissful in their ignorance in the same way that someone will order a glass of white because they are eating chicken and want some wine – neither are right or wrong, it’s the consumer’s choice. Ultimately it’s about the audience you are trying to reach. I can talk about beer in comparison to wine here because someone who wants to know more about beer is willing to search it out on the internet and if my language is familiar to them then hopefully I can be successful in championing beer.
Beer is changing. For most progressive breweries it’s no longer just four house ales and four seasonals. Brewers are doing more and expanding into different markets: look at corked bottles, 750ml bottles, bottle labels, the use of barrel aging, fruit, spices, different brewing techniques and increased levels of alcohol. Drinkers are changing too. It’s not the same as wine but it’s not a million miles away.
A good example of this is Sam Calagione and Marnie Old’s He Said Beer, She Said Wine book - the image at the top. It takes a beer guy and a wine girl, a number of different foods, and they each choose a beer or wine each to go with it. The book not only taught me more about beer but it also taught me more about wine.