I’m a big beer fan. While I really don’t like any hard liquors and am only luke warm to most wine (unless it is used with coke to make kalimotxo!), I really enjoy a nice, cool pint of beer. And I tend to prefer ales over lagers, the hoppier the better.
Slate has an interesting article by Field Maloney on the rise of wine and the stagnation, if not out-right decline, of beer. Over the last decade, wine consumption has doubled while beer consumption has grown by less than 1 percent since 2000. And, they quote a Gallup poll from 2005 reporting that, for the first time, Americans prefer wine to beer. Incredible!
They state a number of strikes against beer, some of which I would never have guessed. There are the usual suspects, that beer is associated with the working class and wine is a more refined taste. And that wine is more of a connoisseur’s drink, with different vintages and so forth. However, one aspect that surprised me is that wine is viewed as more of a simple craft, a handmade product of the earth, while beer is an industrial process.
I guess wine is simpler to make. Beer requires more steps, more cooking of ingredients, and so forth. I think that a lot of the real problem with beer in America, though, comes from the perception of what beer is. Most people, when they think about beer, still think of the domestic American brands: Coors, Bud, Miller, etc. These are highly massed-produced products with relatively little flavor (in my humble opinion) and, compared to wine, I can see where they get this image of being the result of an industrial process.
However, these days, with the advent of the microbrew, there are so many more choices with beer. I might dare to say that beer choices and varieties rival those of wine. And the quality of these beers are excellent. In Seattle, where I went to school, there were brew pubs all over the place, all with excellent offerings and unique twists on the standard types: India pale ale, porter, stout, extra special bitters, brown ales, blonde ales, lagers, pilsners… the list goes on. Just as happened with the local coffee shop and espresso, beer has undergone a renaissance that most of the country, I believe, is more or less ignorant of.
This new beer, of course, has it’s own image, one that the adherents of the American domestic brew belittle as snobbish or elitist. My brothers both used to heckle my beer choices, labeling me a “beer snob” because I preferred a Red Hook to a Silver Bullet. So, it seems, beer is stuck between a rock and a hard place. To some, it will always be the drink of the working masses, not the social elite to which they aspire. To others, the microbrews are everything wine is: a symbol of those same social elites that they view with some level of contempt.
Well, to hell with it. I don’t care what anyone else says. To me, as Benjamin Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.“