Brewing a beverage battle

Why beer won’t win the wine war

Wine has been alone at the top for years as the beverage of choice for the dinner table. But if a new generation of beer sommeliers (also known as cicerones) have their way all that is about to change.

Craft beer consumption is growing at a steady rate in Canada and brewers are continuing to explore new ways to get you drinking more of their product. They already own the pubs so the next logical step is to go after the restaurants so get ready to hear a lot more about beer and food pairing. It’s no surprise that beer wants in on the action; while beer remains Canada’s favourite alcoholic drink it is slowly losing ground as wine sales continue to grow in North America.

Traditionally beer has been relegated to pubs (gastro and otherwise) while wine has enjoyed the spotlight on the table for anniversaries birthdays and any other special occasion you can dream up. It seems that no matter how good a hefeweizen can be it isn’t going to cut it for a toast at your daughter’s wedding or a friend’s retirement.

Why’s that you wonder? Because however good a beer is it lacks wine’s unique ability to not only channel the place it comes from but also the time. Sure you can age some kinds of beer (few bother) but only wine can capture a single vintage and take you back 10 20 or 50 years later allowing you to experience all that went into the season.

The fact is with the right skills you can make beer anytime and anywhere. You can brew a great Belgian-style beer right here in Calgary with the proper ingredients. But not so with wine. Wine can only be made once a year and it takes a year of work to get it right. And wine can only be created in the place it comes from no matter how hard you try or how skilled you are you can’t make a Chateauneuf-du-Pape in Canada — it just ain’t gonna happen.

As for food beer can be fine with a meal even good. But it is limited in the heights it can reach. First off most beers have bubbles in them. Not the fine tiny bubbles you get in Champagne after four years of aging and a long slow fermentation but big CO2-filled bubbles. While these bubbles are good for freshness they quickly start to fill your tummy with gas. Beer flavours can match nicely with food but after one or two glasses it starts to cut into your appetite. Try sitting through a night of drinking beer with several courses of food — you’re gonna need a forklift to get your bloated ass out of the restaurant.

The best beverages to pair food with tend to have high acidity. Acidity is what balances fats and cleans and refreshes your mouth. Like it or not wine has more acidity than beer which is why it feels fresh while beer tends to feel heavy even with the most tart examples.

That’s why wine gets the spotlight for Wednesday night pasta and 25th anniversary dinners. It just does a better job of elevating the meal and offering you something special. This view isn’t simply my own — it’s a fact. Want proof? Would you spend $50 or $100 dollars on a 750ml bottle of beer? Nope. Why? Because making good beer isn’t that hard lots of people do it well and they do it all over the world.

Plenty of people are willing to go out and drop a hundred bucks on a bottle of wine. Why? Because wine is special it’s singular and it represents places and times not just ingredients. So try as this new generation of cicerones might wine is destined to remain at the table — and beer in the pubs.

Read Gabriel Hall’s views on the joys of beer and food here .