People love to choose sides. Whether it’s politics, sex, or who’s got the best ribs in town, everyone has an opinion. Sometimes, I’m all for this: When it comes to pizza (fold, or no fold?), or toilet paper (roll over, or under?), it’s important to stand up and be counted (FYI, folders of the slice -- you’re on the wrong side).
But intoxicating beverages require no oath of allegiance, so even as a winemaker and wine educator, I can also adore beer. And I am not alone. Wine folk not only drink beer -- we also learn from it, cherish it, and know that if it stops flowing, the wine is soon to follow.
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As I learned early on in my career, beer is the fuel that gets the wine made. I’ve worked in Hungary, France, and California, and while each locale has its own culture, language, and concept of personal hygiene, the thirst for beer is universal.
On my first day of harvest at Limerick Lane Cellars in Sonoma County, California, owner Michael Collins pulled me aside. “Andrew," he said in a panic, "I forgot the beer for the pickers. Go quick, and get a lot, 'else a riot'll break out." Whether Borsodi in Hungary, Kronenbourg in France, or Budweiser in California, best to have it ready. And every winery and team is loyal to its go-to -- try serving those Cali guys Coors Light instead of Bud. You may still get that riot.
In The Cellar
ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue” makes me anxious. Barring the occasional flag, bat, or bandana to hide the unspeakables, the photos leave little to the imagination -- which reminds me an awful lot of my days making white wine.
Unlike reds, with their (often excessive) oak and tannin, most white wines have nowhere to hide. They’re exposed. If they were the stars of any TV show, it’d be Naked and Afraid. And if that same show had a casting call for beer, the brewed co-star would be a crisp, clean lager, which makes them a favorite of the winemaking community.
Randle Johnson, head winemaker for Napa Valley’s Hess Collection, advises, “When I drink beer, it’s almost always a lager or pilsner. I like their purity.” He also appreciates the occasional IPA, so long as it’s balanced: “Some of today’s IPA’s are so laden with hops, the more nuanced flavors get lost,” he laments. “It’s like California wine in the ‘80s: too much oak. But when done right, the bite is irresistible.”
In The Dining Room
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Sommeliers get a bad rap. Sure, some are boorish or snooty -- but most are just professional hedonists, equal opportunity lovers of booze and food. Bringing the two together is their job, but like any matchmaker will tell you, successful pairings that break the mold can also be the most rewarding.
Fred Dexheimer, Director of Wine Education for Winebow and former beverage director for the BLT Restaurant Group (now ESquared Hospitality), tells me, “When guests ordered fried foods, or Asian-inspired dishes, my go-to was Saison DuPont. The richness, body, and sweetness was a perfect foil, and for the guest, entirely unexpected.”
Aaron Thorp, owner of WINESHOP in New York City and former sommelier at NYC’s Le Coucou, loves to surprise guests by pouring beer with cheese, “A Flemish sour cuts the goatiness of Valencay as well as, or better than, any wine ever could.” With richer cheeses, he lets a dark ale play contrast to the eau-de-dirty-feet. “Cato Corner produces Hooligan, a funky, washed-rind cheese. I pair it with a [Belgian Strong Dark Ale] Cuvée Van de Keizer Blauw and people go nuts. The flavors never stop.”
But dancing the foxtrot with Valencay isn’t beer’s only role in the restaurant world. More importantly, it’s a salve to the wounds inflicted during the warfare between front and back of house. At night’s end, the first crack of the can blurs the battle lines, and by the third, it’s a love fest. (Pro Tip courtesy of Aaron Thorp: If you want to be a big tipper when you dine out, leave 20%...and bring a 6-pack for the kitchen.)
My first job in high school was working the fryer at Roy Rogers. Chicken goes in; chicken comes out. It was mindless, but I loved fried chicken. Until I didn’t. Variety is the spice of life, and I ingested more fowl in a year than a family of four eats in a lifetime.
And so it is with wine. To write about it, one must taste it. A lot of it. But most wines have enough natural acid to double as drain cleaner, so after a day of sipping, slurping, and spitting, one’s palate (and remaining tooth enamel) seeks relief. Beer to the rescue.
For Cliff Rames, Editor-At-Large for SOMM Journal, the style depends on the weather. “In the summer -- especially after a day of tasting wine -- my go-to is Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen, or a really resinous IPA, like Sixpoint Resin,” he says. “In winter, a bourbon barrel ale, dark stout, or Samichlaus always hits the spot.”
Lisa Granik, one of only 355 Masters of Wine in the world, admits, “A pure, light Kölsch really makes you appreciate the German Purity Laws. And the way they quench your thirst -- no wine does that.”
So, look: wine professionals are people, too. We appreciate you beer folk, and we like what you’re putting out there. No need to choose a side -- one love.
But please, have some class, and stop folding that pizza.
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