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A Preference For Beer, Section II

May 9, 2011

I ended the previous section by touching briefly on the fact that beer, craft beer in particular, seems to lend itself to more robust or varied flavors and this is part of why I prefer it other beverages. Yet, I feel this is something that must be delved into somewhat more deeply, particularly as a contrast to craft beer’s largest alcoholic competition: wine. Before I go any further, I’d like to state that I have nothing against wine. Wine is good and I’ve come to enjoy it since the wine store by my apartment has hours more conducive to my life style than the beer distributor. There is one problem I find with wine though, and that is that wine will always just be grapes.

Sure, I have seen the occasional grape-other fruit fusion wine for six bucks at a liquor store but that isn’t wine I’m actually supposed to purchase if I want to enjoy wine for wine. Whereas when breweries put out beers with apricot hints or blueberry as their main focus, I’m supposed to drink them because they’re claiming to have done a good job with it not because I’m tired of malt and hops. Wine is a drink that is extremely subtle and nuanced which I suppose is fine. Call me a boorish fool who wants things to have a variety of tastes that I can experience without years of honing my taste buds by drinking dozens of bottles of wine. Go right ahead, I don’t care.

Good wine is delicious, and wine does have a myriad of tastes and scents to it if you’re willing to search for them. A dedicated drinker of wine can sit down, sip from a glass and have a mild taste war go off in their mouth. Whereas a random passerby can drink the same glass and say, ‘Oh that’s pretty good. Way better than Franzia!’ Beer is quite the opposite, a dedicated drinker of craft beer can sit down to enjoy something like a Dogfish Head Aprihop and taste the different hop varieties, the apricot hints, and so on. That passerby however can sip the same beer and actually taste something similar to what the brewer does. Sure they won’t be able to identify the hops involved in comparison to other hop varieties, or maybe they won’t notice a subtle maltiness but they still get what’s promised: Hops and Apricot.

Drinking wine is a learning experience, one which involves experimentation and a willingness to learn about which grape varieties are made where and what wines they’re used in. This is means that drinking wine has what I would call a front-loaded learning curve, paired with an ever steady increase in expense. For example, a relatively good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc will taste sweet and slightly acidic. However, a very good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is supposed to make you smell and taste everything from limes to recently mowed grass. I have never had such a bottle, but certainly they must exist as everyone talks about them like they’re real. I don’t believe there is some grand wine conspiracy to claim that different wines have these false tastes to make novices feel bad for their uncultured ways. Instead, I think it’s simply a matter of nuanced flavors and the development of a palette through years of drinking wine of a steadily increasing craftsmanship.

The beer learning curve is more akin to a moderate slope. Developing a palette for beer can be very difficult when you break things down to brass tacks. For example, I can not count the amount of times my first taste response was that I was getting a slight caramel hint but only after the glass was finished did I realize it was toffee. But the thing is that in their actual non-beer forms toffee and caramel have a pretty subtle distinction as well. Furthermore, those toffee hints were a lingering after taste that was nagging to be identified whereas the rest of the beer tasted like a warm pretzel. The thing is though that while there are minor nuances like that, you will no matter what be able to taste the robust pretzely flavor of that bock followed by its minor sugary aftertaste. You might not be certain if that is toffee or caramel either but you taste something. Whereas with wine, people tell me they parse out these various flavors and I’m sure they do. I however cannot, as hard as I try, really break into these nuanced tastes.

The final point that I can come to is the simple fact that there are plenty of wine varieties that I don’t at my level of knowledge and palette taste a grand difference between. I know there is such a difference but I and many casual wine drinkers can’t taste it. Whereas with beer, there’s very little chance to sip an IPA and think you’re drinking a brown ale. You might pick up that IPA and it might be a dark brown color, but the second you take a sip and feel like a being made of hops punched you in the face you will realize this was not the nutty creamy brown ale you wanted. It goes on through beer styles this way, with real subtleties existing (if you taste the difference between lagers and pilsners you know you’ve got the hang of it) but the novice can still taste what they’re supposed to. It’s not just better than Bud, beers have distinct and robust flavors that pair very well with food and thus are very accessible to a passerby.

I suppose I could end this by trumpeting how beer is clearly the beverage that ties itself to democracy and equality, but that would just seem silly. It’s not that wine is the drink of some aristocratic ninny who lives in an estate and owns the factory all us beer-drinkers work at. Wine is just the best example of another drink that requires more training to enjoy than beer. The same could be said for brandy, all of the whiskeys, and hell, even rum. I prefer beer because unlike wine I don’t need to worry about dryness or acidity if I want to drink it, I just pick something that sounds like it’s going to be tasty.

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