Doesn’t it seem like that for centuries wine has always been considered immensely more important than beer? It certainly commands more respect and is usually always the first choice of beverage when we are trying to impress someone or appear sophisticated in a social situation or gathering. I’m sure that when the White House is entertaining important Diplomats or throwing a big fancy gala, that the sommeliers are not running around in their black tuxedos with white napkins presenting chilled bottles of “bud light” to be assessed and poured (can’t you just picture the French president gently sniffing the bottle cap). I love wine, but I also absolutely love beer and I think it’s time to give beer the attention it deserves. When I shop for wine what I am looking for is value coupled with intensity of character and depth, and I do the exact same thing with beer.
Beer and wine are obviously two separate beverages but they certainly do have a lot in common. Sure, the ingredients going into the product differ (grapes for wine and hops, barley, herbs etc. for beer) but in the end the elements of style are similar: appearance, color, aroma, mouthfeel, flavor, strength and finish. Think about it, both beer and wine are produced by the fermentation of sugars, offer you a choice of filtered or non-filtered, pair extremely well with food and come in a wide range of styles. Some beers are actually aged in wood barrels for a period of time, just like some wines.
There is a dizzying array of beers available in today’s market and they range in style from light, crisp and refreshing to dark, full-bodied and rich. Basically speaking, all beers fall into two categories: ales and lagers. There are also “hybrid” beers and “mixed” style beers but that is another article. Ale is beer that uses “top” fermenting yeast and is typically fermented at higher temperatures than lager yeast, between 60°- 75° F. Ale yeasts at this temperature are known to produce by-products called esters which impart floral or fruity aromas into the beer such as; apple, pear, pineapple, grass, plum, hay and prune. Lager is beer that uses “bottom” fermenting yeast that work slower at a cooler temperature, between 45°- 55° F, then the beer is stored at an even cooler temperature, during this time the lager clears and mellows. Lager yeasts produce fewer esters and the cooler conditions result in a crisper tasting beer. The brewing processes of the two different kinds of beer- lager, cold and efficient; and ale, warm and complex- result in very different final products. Lagers are clean, refreshing beers with typically light aroma and flavor, while ales are more complex and richer, some ales are served closer to room temperature to contain the rich flavor and aroma. Styles of ale include: Barley wine, Belgian Triple, Belgian Dubbel, Bitter, Amber Ale, Brown Ale, Pale Ale, Porter, Stout and Wheat beer. Styles of lager include: American-style lager, Bock, Dunkel, Helles, Märzen, Oktoberfest, Pilsner, Schwarzbier and Vienna lager.
I love both styles of beer, lager for its fresh citrus, spice and floral character, and ale for its deep intensity of flavors like chocolate, espresso, walnut, caramel, smoke and wood. I wouldn’t say that beer is the new wine, but I do think it deserves its rightful place in society with the same amount of respect that goes to wine. I have always heard that life is too short to drink bad wine, and in my book, the same goes for beer.