September 12, 2014

The Great Beer and Wine Debate

By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student

One of the hidden gems of the Classic Cuisines block of the Culinary Arts Program at Auguste Escoffier is what we students have been affectionately calling “Wine Academy.”  It involves five days of learning how to properly taste and analyze wine in order to dissect its subtle nuances, describe it properly, and subsequently be able to sell it to both customers and restaurateurs.  In addition to that, there’s some classroom lecture time wherein we get a great deal of information about wine and its production, starting with the wines of France, moving on to Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Italy, and ending (today) in Spain.

What is interesting for me is that I’ve been using many of the techniques used in tasting wine several months as a beer writer.  It’s the same basic technique—take in the aroma, taste a little bit, take some notes, taste some more, breath out of your nose to get the full aroma, shine a light behind the beer to get its true color, and so on.  Granted, there’s no swirl in beer, but it’s pretty much the same method.

The Great Beer Wine Debate

 As an aspiring culinarian and as a beer critic, many people ask me which I prefer, beer or wine.  It’s a fascinating question, mainly I think because modern American society seems somewhat obsessed with the idea of picking teams.  In sports, in politics, in TV shows and movies, your fellow Americans want you to pick a team and stick by it, and that’s what this “wine vs beer” question seems to revolve around.

But “picking a team” doesn’t really work in the food world.  When you “pick a team,” the implication is that you’re not allowed to cross sides and partake from the other team’s fare.  If I were to say “I’m a beer guy,” it’s supposed to feel like a betrayal whenever I pop the top of a champagne bottle or pull the cork on a good cab.  It just doesn’t work that way.

One of the hallmarks of a good culinarian is that they are constantly striving to discover new things—new flavor profiles, no aromas, new ingredients, all of which could potentially make your own work more exciting.  A side-effect of this is that it’s easy to get bored—“pork chop Friday” could quickly become a drab affair (regardless of how well those chops are prepared) because they’re old hat.

In that way, having the same beverage for every meal every day for your entire life would become a trudge very quickly (ignoring the fact that certain beverages don’t pair as well with certain meals) and that would be hard to take.  A lot of consumers find solace in the familiarity of their beverage of choice, but I see drinking even my favorite styles with every meal as a long boring line to walk.

There also seems, for whatever reason, to be a gender component mixed into the “beer vs wine” question that I find absolutely baffling.  For example, I have a pairing cookbook on my shelf titled “He Said Beer, She Said Wine,” with the first half written by Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione and the second half written by Marnie Old, nationally renowned sommelier.

While it’s a good book with a lot of well thought-out tips on pairing both beverages and the delight to be taken in a good-natured “beer vs wine” debate, the title of the book alone illustrates exactly how we as a society feel about these two beverages.  Namely, beer is for boys, and wine is for girls.

This is of course absolutely ridiculous.  Not only do I know many women who enjoy a good brew, I’ve met dozens of women who work as brewers in the craft beer industry and know more about beer and its creation than I probably ever will.  Simultaneously, Chef Jean-Claude and a number of chefs, both at Escoffier and in the industry as a whole, are most certainly wine guys, and their knowledge of the beverage is staggering.The Great Beer Wine Debate 3

My point here is that some of our preconceived notions about beer, wine, and food and beverages in general are silly when you think about it.  Strictly adhering to them could mean you miss out on something amazing, or at the very least, it could limit you to a boring menu selection!  Don’t let the idea of “picking a team” prevent you from expanding your palate a bit.  Pack up your favorite glass this weekend and pick up something stemmed or boot-shaped this weekend.  I doubt you’ll be disappointed.