Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 35
Beer tips for the wine drinker

May 3, 2001

Since this newsletter is dedicated to beer appreciation, it's natural for us to look for analogies with wine because we think beer deserves the same recognition that wine has received just about forever. At the same time we love the fact that beer is the most democratic of beverages. It's an everyday drink for the regular Joe and regular Jane.


Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing in San Francisco puts it pretty well: "It's very hard to get pretentious about beer. You can become knowledgeable and start to talk with a highfalutin' vocabulary. But you can only go so far with beer, and I've always liked that."

That's why we're still cautious when we talk about beer and wine. That and the fact that it's fun to note that the biggest difference between beer tasters and wine tasters is that the beer tasters don't spit. Yet the truth is that wine drinkers are among the best candidates to try flavorful beer. And the larger the category grows the more our choices expand.

Mark Matheson seems particularly well qualified to talk about the similarities between beer and wine. He's both the brewer at Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. in Rio Rancho, N.M., and the winemaker at Santa Fe Vineyards north of Santa Fe.

"They are both fermentation," he said. "And yeasts are very forgiving if you make sure a few key elements are right. But in wine -- and some wineries will get mad when I say this -- yeasts aren't an important part of the taste. In beer, they may be part of the flavor profile."

When he talks about the parallels between making wine and beer, Matheson could also be discussing the similarities between drinking the two beverages. "In brewing and making wine anything you do is experience -- 'Have you seen it before?'" Matheson said. "Whether it is wine or beer I think you have to do it about 10 years to get a grasp. I've gotten to the point with wine, and I hope I'm getting there with beer."

He points out that there's an old saying that farmers make wine and engineers make beer. In part that's because winemakers learn to deal with a different crop of grapes every year, while brewers count on consistency in malt.

"With wine you get that one shot. If you screw up, it's a long wait, but there are some things you can do to fix it," Matheson said. "You cannot fix bad beer. You have to dump it down the drain."

So what guidance can we offer a wine drinker ready to explore the joys of beer? Michael Jackson prepared a concise "Wine Lover's Guide to Beer" in his 1993 "Beer Companion." His suggestions:

Dry white: an authentic, hoppy Pilsner.

Gewürztraminer: a spicy, malty Vienna-style lager, or a darker Munich-style lager.

Champagne: a wheat beer.

Blush Zinfandel or pink champagne: a framboise (raspberry beer).

Cabernet Sauvignon: a fruity English-style ale, or an oaky American India pale ale.

Pinot Noir: a richer Scottish or Belgian ale.

Fino sherry: a lambic.

Amontillado sherry: a porter or dry stout.

Port: a dark Trappist ale, with some bottle-age.

Tasting notes

Brewed by St. Stan's brewing Co. in Modesto, Calif.

Roger Protz' tasting notes:

The aroma is almost vinous in its fruity intensity, with bitter blood oranges dominating. In the mouth, bitter hops vie for attention with toasty malt and tart fruit, while the finish is a complex mix of fruit, dark malt and bitter hops. A brilliant companion for rich, spicy foods.

Brewed by Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes in Switzerland

Stephen Beaumont's tasting notes:

A flavourful, well-balanced ale in its youth, with a distinct sage aroma and moderately hoppy, dry and lightly fruity body, the older beer develops a complexity the young beer can only hint at. The very faint sourness notable in the younger ale becomes well-developed and integrates beautifully into an herbal, faintly vegetal character.