A Few Words on … beer vs. wine

I’ve recently started following beer writer Heather Vandenengel on Twitter and caught this post (and responses) yesterday, which piqued my interest:

Reading this story, it seems that the subhead Heather mentions refers to a few paragraphs that talk about food and beer pairings. That’s it, essentially. Naturally, it’d be easy to then draw the line from craft beer to wine because wine is so ubiquitous with food pairings.

This started a brief Twitter conversation between myself, Heather and Win Bassett, executive director of the North Carolina Brewers Guild. I asked them “Is wine connection just easier? More accessible to “avg joe” reader? Or just bad editor/paginator?” They both answered that the connection of “craft beer as the new wine” shouldn’t be made in the first place.

I completely agree with Win and Heather – beer should stand alone. However, what is the extent of the harm of the comparison? This is an issue of semantics. It’s all about wordplay and phrasing, but something that definitely affects beer lovers.

Full disclosure: I rarely drink wine despite growing up in one of the highly regarded wine countries in the U.S. I drink beer very often. Let’s hit the jump together to dissect this misunderstanding…

A simple answer is – as Twitter user “TheDrewStarr” puts it – Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states that “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no.'”

Since we’ve got that out of the way, why do writers/editors/media keep making the connection of beer as the new wine? The broad answer is probably pretty easy – the idea of Americans liking craft beer is still relatively new, so some kind of connection or reference is needed. Keep in mind that while craft beer in its current state has been around since the 1960s with the reopening of Anchor Brewing Company by Fritz Maytag, it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve seen a “craze” really take hold:

So back to this wine/beer comparison. I agree that really, there should be no connection, but it’s just an easy/cliche line to make for general newspaper readership, right? Does Average Joe know the difference?

Which brings us to the real question at the heart of this issue: How can we change Average Joe’s viewpoint to understand that beer is its own thing and “wine” doesn’t need to enter the conversation?

It’s OK for beer to be bitter, really.

Ultimately, I think it’s about general education, but where is the saturation point? How do we make sure people can learn about craft beer (and its differences with wine) and why it’s not OK to say craft beer is the “new wine?” This is simply one of 23904823234 and counting blogs about beer that certainly try to discuss the craft and art of beer, but does Average Joe care? Can they care with dozens of commercials telling them to tap the Rockies or go platinum or even if you’re not a beer drinker drink this beer when you do? Anyone remember the embarrassment that was Bitter Beer Face? (It’s OK – even preferable – for beer to be better. Gasp!)

This isn’t about what I think or what you think – although I certainly care about what you think, I promise. This is about what a generic, non-specific, sometimes beer drinking person out in the ether of the world thinks. And that’s the problem.

Look, we know macrobreweries still consist of 94.3 percent of sales by volume and 91.9 percent of dollars in the U.S. This tells me that people are still buying (and sticking to) BMC beers and perhaps are weary of spending extra on a beer they don’t know and don’t understand. However, craft beer sales are stronger than ever.

Is this the face of our non-specific beer drinker?

And follow me here because I’m speaking VERY broadly, but if we’re talking about a market of a (somewhat) unknown quantity – craft beer – how can we make it more relatable? By using cliches that Average Joe will understand. Average Joe probably believes that wine is kind of fancy and when we make wine vs. craft beer arguments, it’s because to Average Joe, craft beer is probably kind of fancy. These are the people we want to change, after all, and I think that’s OK. It doesn’t mean we can’t convert them, it just means it takes extra effort to change their mind when they hear cliches like this.

So what it comes down to then is where or why is this connection being made? Is it because wine is “expensive” and craft beer is “expensive?” Is it because wine is “exotic” and craft beer is “exotic?” Or is it simply laziness?

You tell me.

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7 thoughts on “A Few Words on … beer vs. wine

  1. One reason could be that with both wine and beer there’s overwhelming choice and variety.

    Unfortunately, that makes it difficult for newcomers to get started with either of them and pitches them both against regular lager, which most people are familiar with.

    • Yes – I definitely agree. Part of the reason most definitely lies within the issue of general understanding of craft beer and with so many options, it’s easy to throw blanket statements/thoughts around. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  2. I don’t know. But it does strike me that wine is perhaps trying to become more like craft beer. There seems to be a movement to make wine more accessible and reviews and ratings more egalitarian. So should the question be is wine the new beer? (See what I did there…)

    • It’s a great point – as I was thinking about this more, I came to the idea of “is craft beer the new beer?” If people are still solidly going for Bud/Miller/Coors as craft beer sales climb, does that mean there’s still fascination with craft beer? Sales certainly increase because there’s lots of really great craft beer options that are more readily available then ever, but if old, boring American lager/pilsner is still the most popular by a landslide, doesn’t that just mean craft beer is still the new kid on the block?

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