Recently Matt at You Stay Hoppy Austin posted a tongue-in cheek list of reasons why beer is better than wine. It struck a chord with me. While I’m a huge fan of both fine wine and craft brew, I see differences in the cultures of the aficionados. Let’s be honest, beer is from Mars, wine is from Venus.
Beer is the drink of the masses, which is why we have Joe Six-pack. Wine is the drink of kings. After all, it’s made from Nobel grapes. Really? Actually it’s not as straightforward as the old stereotypes. But still, aren’t there differences? Here’s how I see it.
When I go to a bar that draws beer devotees, I always know what the crowd will look like before I open the door. It will be 90% men, the majority with beards, wearing bicycle messenger shorts and either beer or ironic t-shirts. They hold up fat goblets of sour beer made by Trappist monks and describe the fruitiness with no sense of irony. These guys will dazzle each other with their encyclopedic knowledge of beer history, beer production, beer taste profiles and the coolest dudes making craft brew in the coolest places. They speak of finger width head, lacing, the scent of sourdough and pine sap flavors with the fervor of as recently converted Pentecostal. Beer geeks can be a little cliqueish and reserved with you until you demonstrate that you have hop cred. These semi-elitists certainly are no Joe Six-packs.
When I go to a wine bar or a wine tasting, I also know what I’m going to find. The over-stuffed couches and chairs will be populated by couples or small groups of girlfriends engaged in lively dialog about fashion, the arts politics and economics while eating artisan cheeses and organic fruit. They’ll pause occasionally to comment on how the wine is opening up as it breaths (even though the bottle was opened yesterday) and to recount how it reminds them of the oh-so-off-the-beaten-path boutique winery they discovered in Anderson Valley/Willamette Valley/Bordeaux/You Name The Region – all in a breathless conspiratorial tone of someone who has discovered the covenant of the lost arc. They aren’t above it all royalty. In fact, they are looking for wine that is still in touch with the earth; and speak of it lovingly as terroir.
While I might hold these perceptions, I wondered if others people see it this way too. So @stayhoppyaustin and I contacted some wine and beer experts to ask what they think of beer culture compared to wine culture. Do they seem them as Cat people and Dog people? Here’s a sampling of what I heard from the winos.
- Rollin Soles, wine maker, Argyle Winery and Roco Winery – “Beer is a refreshing beverage to enjoy after a serious wine tasting for many winemakers. I call beer Khaki Champagne. I’ve got a lot of respect from the best brewers as the good ones know the difficulties of making a great, balanced fizzy beverage, and sparkling wine is the pinnacle. The respect is mutual.
The best winemakers and brewers have a lot in common. We want to know the source of our ingredients, we want to play with and control those ingredients, we understand balance and the power of subtlety, we take our craft seriously but not ourselves. The ‘universe’ of beer and wine has never been broader nor better!”
- Rick Bakas, founder of Bakas Media, and author of Back to Bakas a Sommeliers Guide to Wine + Food, Facebook.com/sommrickbakas – “Beer aficionados are more brand loyal and tend to stick to a style or brand through thick and thin. Wine aficionados will whore themselves out to anyone and I mean that in the best way possible. There are more than twice as many wineries in the world as there are breweries, so there are more wine brands to sample. It might seem like wine folks are more serious about wine, but in my opinion, beer geeks are more serious about their drink of choice. Part of that may be that home brewers find beer to be more accessible and easier to be part of than wine. It’s not real easy to make good wine at home like you can with beer. The beer community is more collaborative because of the added home brewer demographic. I’ve been part of home brew forums that share brew recipes whereas wine doesn’t have that added layer of interaction.
Both communities have their elitist demographics. Both have people that are serious about their craft. For the wine crowd, they have experts such as Master Sommeliers. There are beer somms but they don’t carry the same cache, or aren’t as well-known as wine somms. Technically, a good sommelier knows their beer and wine equally along with any other adult beverage but wine gets more focus than beer.
The beer crowd is weighted heavily towards men. Last time I went to the GABF it was about 80% males….real sausage fest.”
- Husband and Wife team the beer guy, William Fraser, and Denise Fraser, the mind behind the Texas Wine Gal blog gave me a he-said, she-said on beer and wine – “A beer geek is happy to enjoy a pint (or better yet, several half pints) in a bar that’s hot, got lousy food, and a pitiful wine list. Oh yeah, and it’s probably got flat screens blaring sports. (wink!)”
“A wino frequents bars and restaurants where she can order something other than Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and she wants to enjoy good food – even if only an artisan cheese plate – with her glass or bottle of wine. Oh yeah, and she wants a decent pour. (clink!)”
Collaborative? “Beer geeks collaborate on meaningless fodder, intended to humor one another.”
“Texas winemakers and growers are super collaborative and helpful in order to support the overall industry. They share knowledge, equipment, and other resources in order to move the industry forward. And the wine community here is also collaborative with the local foods movement, illustrating ‘what grows together, goes together.’ Wine people also stick together.”
Inclusive? “Wine people are inclusive only if you possess an adjective vocabulary larger than a kitchen panty, blessed with a nose comparable to that of a dog and with an understanding that tannins is what the hot blond at the end of the bar has been doing all day.”
“Wine may historically had a bad rap for being exclusive or snobby, but no more. Today’s wine consumers, particularly Millenials, don’t really care what the Winestream media (I’m stealing this term from Wine Curmudgeon Jeff Siegel) say about wines. They care less about scores and more about what their friends suggest. There’s nothing more inviting or inclusive than enjoying and talking about wine with friends”.
Elitist or egalitarian? “Egalitarian is a big word for a beer drinker. We prefer to share our beer.”
“Beware the wino who gets into his geek mode when describing wine….barnyard, band-aid, wet socks, gasoline or cat pee. That can be a little boorish. For me, I like simple, easy descriptors – a cherry Jolly Rancher maybe – and people who realize that everyone’s palates are different. I may love a wine that you don’t like at all…and that’s OK.”
Gender differences? “Yes, they both have cleavage, but one is more likely to show you theirs. Guess which one?”
“I’d have to say that wine is pretty 50-50.”
- Jessica Dupuy, freelance writer, http://jessicadupuy.com/ – “A beer aficionado is someone who not only enjoys beer for taste, but someone who has a level of understanding of what it takes to make good beer. Having this understanding allows beer lovers to try and taste different beers-which can have anywhere from 30 different ingredients influencing the flavors–with a better awareness for what they like and don’t like.
I’m a wine fan, but I think the community of beer makers are very collaborative. Because of how beer if made, it requires more of a process that artisans can really learn from by working with other craft beer producers.
There are beer geeks and there are wine enthusiasts, both can have an elitist streak if you get them drinking enough beer or wine. ; ) but I’ve found that people that really are aficionados on either beverage is well past the point of being pedantic just for the sake of showing off a little knowledge.
I see more women in the wine crowd, but honestly both are still good ole boy communities…”
- Katy Jane Bothum, Creator/Producer of the Austin Wine & Music Festival, – “I find them both to be die hard loyal with exploratory natures if you will. Beer seems to hover on the inclusive side of enjoyment where wine can sometimes rest on the exclusive side. I believe in both there are subcultures that welcome and fit the education level or groove of anyone looking to imbibe.
Both go to both (beer and wine festivals) because they are always friends with, dating and or married to the other. Which is why Austin Wine and Music Festival chose to add Craft Beer in its third year so that we too – even as a wine event could rest on the inclusive side. Imbibing should come without pretense and with unadulterated joy for what your heart and palate crave.” –
- Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D., Italian wine aficionado and author of Do Bianchi – “There is more social engagement in the wine community only because the unique nature of how wine is bottled, labeled, and shipped creates more opportunity for human engagement. There is a tendency toward elitism in the wine community, if only because of the historical stigma and cliché of wine. Historically, beer has always had a more proletarian appeal (but only in the U.S.; in Europe it’s the opposite). There are more women in wine for sure. Women have superior palates and are better at evaluating and discussing wine than men.”
- Diane Dixon, co-founder, Keeper Collection, LLC and Somms Under Fire – “(Beer aficionados are) enthusiastic about their brew; adventuresome to taste lots of different beer. Wine aficionados love their wine; tend to like certain wine regions and stick with those.”
- @Sassodoro, Italian wine aficionado – “The thought that wine and beer enthusiasts are like Cat people and Dog people certainly applies to me. I know that beer can be tremendously complex and interesting, and pair fabulously with food, but I just never got all that excited about it. I find the wine crowd to be a very congenial bunch, both among people in the business and ‘civilians.’ Perhaps it isn’t surprising that ‘civilian’ enthusiasts would be a fun crowd. That’s probably the case for any group of people that come together to share their hobby.
What I found more surprising was the degree of helpfulness and collegiality among people in the wine business who are ostensibly competitors. I was once an investor in a retail wine store and within the first month or so that we were open, another retailer came up to me at a trade tasting and offered his help, advice, and good wishes. I know a couple of importer-distributors who share warehouse space, sometimes conduct joint portfolio tastings, and celebrate each other’s successes. Among sommeliers and aspiring sommeliers, the mutual support and mentoring is truly impressive. And I see on Twitter all the time where people are supporting others with whom, at some level, they are competing.”
I don’t know. It sounds like people have differing opinions on this. Some think they are cut from the same cloth, some people think they are different. Take a look at what the Beer Geeks have to say on this matter over on You Stay Hoppy Austin.
What do you think? I have to know.