B.C. Beer Blog

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of B.C. craft beer

Instead of Cheap Wine, Drink Great Beer

with 13 comments

Anthony Gismondi writes in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun that in these times, it pays to become a more savvy wine drinker. What he means by that is not so much being more knowledgeable about wine itself, but looking for the best-valued wines rather than resorting to buying cheap wine to save money. Of course, you may have to drink less to stay within your shrunken budget.

Fortunately, drinking great beer presents few such restrictions and takes far less effort. How much money will you have to spend trying to find a wine in that crapshoot $10-$20 price range before you find something better than so-so or worse? Will that wine be just as good next year? Find a single bottle of beer in that price range, and you can be confident that the majority will be good to excellent. Most BC craft beer, on the other hand, is less than $5.00 per 650ml bottle. So for every bottle of wine you drink, you can try at least three different kinds of beer, if not more.

Would switching over to drinking more beer represent much of a sacrifice for wine drinkers? If you are sticking strictly to BC products, there certainly aren’t as many craft beers as there are wines. The BC wine industry has more money and government support than our brewers. Consequently, there are more of them. However, as you will glean from my earlier postings, there is no loss when it comes to food pairing. In fact, I would argue that given the flavour palette available with beer, there is a gain. Beer shines where pairings for wine are “tricky:” chocolate, oysters, sharp cheeses, and spicy foods.

Another thing that you will discover when you apply a connoisseur’s approach (kindly refrain from holding your nose up in the air) to beer is its seasonality — certain beer styles are suited to certain seasons. Jurgen Gothe, wine writer for the Georgia Straight , however, doesn’t seem to recognize that. His ‘Drink of the Week’ for December 30 was Tiger lager from Singapore. (Personally, I’m not too keen on drinking a generic macro lager from the other side of the world, especially after shoveling snow off the sidewalk. If I went to a Singaporean restaurant here, it would probably be the best choice available only because the proprietor likely knows nothing about beer except to stock what will sell and make the most money. In Singapore, though, you would be cheating yourself out of having a great beer if you kept only to Tiger.)

I’m not saying that you can’t drink a lager outside of summer; you can. But there are Bocks, Doppelbocks, and Eisbocks for this time of year that are more appropriate lagers than a Helles, Pils, or Vienna, both in terms of how they make us feel and in going with the hearty foods we eat to give us comfort. Barley wines, imperial stouts, old ales, Scotch ales, and Christmas/winter spiced beer often evolved from nature’s cycle. You wouldn’t normally drink these in summer. (With respect to wine, I can only think of young wines, like Beaujolais Nouveau, and mulled wine that are consumed during a particular time of year.) Therefore, in adopting the seasonality of beer, we become more in sync with Earth’s natural rhythm.

So to all wine drinkers, worry not. Find comfort in beer. And if your portfolio has taken a dive, seek shelter in a Bailout Bitter.

13 Responses

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  1. Well said! When your wine collection is worth as much as your car, it’s time to switch to beer.


    January 12, 2009 at 6:15 pm

  2. I hunted down Jurgen Gothe’s review of Tiger that you mentioned – http://www.straight.com/article-177740/tiger-beer – and right from the opening sentence (“Crisp, fresh, bright, and cold: what else can you ask from a beer?”), it was obvious that it would be yet another of the poorly informed beer reviews that I’ve come to expect from most wine writers. Sigh.

    But at least this review won’t make people sick, unlike Beppi Crosariol’s review to Yanjing in this past Saturday’s Globe & Mail, where he writes the following:

    “Yanjing would be a fine way to ring in the Year of the Ox (on the first day of the lunar new year, Jan. 26), especially if you’ve resolved to give up gluten; it’s wheat-free, fermented from rice instead of barley.”

    Setting aside the fact that ALL beers except wheat beers are wheat-free – the gluten comes from the barley, not from wheat – Yanjing is not a rice-only beer (is there even such a thing?). So it’s certainly not gluten-free. I feel sorry for any poor celiacs who take him at his word and try Yanjing.

    Greg Clow

    January 12, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    • Good point about Yanjing and it’s ingredients. It most certainly is made from barley and therefore does have gluten. I have heard the company representative here in BC say “it’s a pure rice beer,” whatever that means, but rice is probably the adjunct added. Celiacs should beware of this lager beer.


      April 25, 2010 at 2:13 am

  3. Time and again, wine writers prove to me they think they know something about beer merely because they are thinking drinkers (have trained palates). Beyond casual remarks, I wouldn’t venture to write anything knowledgeable about wine, much less cocktails or spirits. My plate is full with beer alone.

    As for the Yanjing review… Yikes! Big boo boo there.

    Yes there is such a thing as rice beer; it’s called sake :-). Calling sake “rice wine” is a misnomer because it is actually brewed.


    January 12, 2009 at 8:15 pm

  4. I’ve written a couple of wine articles for Taste T.O., the food & drink website that my wife and I publish, but always making it clear that I’m a complete wine novice.

    But when it comes to wine writers writing about beer, there’s always an underlying (or in some cases, overt) sense that they view beer as a much less complex and inferior beverage to wine, and therefore as wine experts, they’re completely qualified to write about it, even though they usually don’t have a clue.

    And yes, I know that sake is technically “rice beer”. I was being facetious. 😉

    Greg Clow

    January 12, 2009 at 9:02 pm

  5. Ah yes, Myth #9 of the 15 Most Common Myths And Misconceptions About Beer: http://madconomist.com/15-most-common-myths-and-misconceptions-about-beer.


    January 12, 2009 at 9:16 pm

  6. […] Unlike wine, beer is not so expensive that you have to make sacrifices, unless you drink lots of it. In that case, it doesn’t hurt to reconsider your drinking choices or drinking style, for that matter. If you drink a lot of mass-market light lager, maybe the reason is that its lack of flavour is not satisfying, so you keep drinking and drinking until you’re full or drunk. Try drinking an undiluted, unadulterated, unfiltered, unpasteurized craft beer instead. You might find that you are satisfied with drinking less. So in paying a bit more for a more flavourful beer, ironically, you may actually spend less on your overall consumption. […]

  7. I just saw this post now. And hey, I wouldn’t call myself a wine expert, but I know a bit, drink it a lot, and I think beer is great and complex and all that!

    Just to offer another take on your wine has no seasons view, I think there are definitely wines for seasons in the same way there are for beers.

    Think of a dark meaty syrah with a braised meat dish in the winter, but a spritely lightly effervescent german riesling with sushi in the summer. Pinot Noir and Grenache are great for spring and fall dishes – lots of fowl and game pair great with those two. A nice crisp albarino from spain will pair nicely with a summery shellfish inspired meal. Etc.!

    So, I am completely on board your call for stouts, barley wines, spiced beers for winter, and sours, ipas, red ales, weizens, etc. for summer. But, I think wine and beer can mutually enhance (but not simultaneously!) the experience of the other and sometimes one occasion suits one style more than another.


    April 19, 2009 at 11:25 pm

  8. Thanks for your remarks, Shea. In the examples you gave, are those varietals only available in the seasons you mention? Because with beer, the styles that I mentioned above are released late in the year when the weather cools down. (The only reason they may still be available in spring and after is because they didn’t completely sell out.) Come summer, I would not want to drink a single one of those beers, nor, do I think, would most people. Would you say the same for Riesling, Pinot, Grenache, or Albarino?


    April 20, 2009 at 8:51 am

  9. Sure, I tend not to drink as many whites in the winter and sales of summery wines definitely go down in the winter. I’m not sure why when a product is available matters – wine is an agricultural product, so its release is dictated by the cycles of the season – if you look at it like that wine may be more in sync with ‘Earth’s natural Rhythm’ than many realize :). In fact, wine expresses seasonal variation whereas beer does not (not that this is a negative, just a difference). Then, release of a wine depends on how much barrel aging, bottle aging is necessary, etc. Wines are harvested dictated by the growing conditions of a given vintage and region and even particular vineyard. Vineyard practices and management are essential. Wines are released usually when they are ready, which is variable.

    Beer benefits from similar considerations too as sometimes – as with this year’s release of Lost Abbey’s Angel’s share – the beer is not ready to bottle, needs more fermentation time, or needs to barrel age longer, or needs time in the bottle for the bottle conditioning to allow the yeasts to show their stuff. That’s not always dictated by seasons. So, the question really is whether there are multiple options for different kinds of weather, different foods, etc.

    I prefer to have all the options available and choose what makes sense for me at the time. I think what matters is versatility – which both wine and beer have. I mean, stouts are released in the winter, but you can still buy and drink them in the summer – same with most styles of beer unless they are really small production and sell out (and you can always cellar some yourself). I drink stouts sometimes in the summer, especially in Vancouver where it can get quite cold at night :). I’m not out there drinking stouts on a 80 degree day, but then i’m also not out there drinking a bottle of red Bordeaux on such days either. Again, I don’t think the seasonal availability of an alcoholic product is that important, what’s important is its versatility and diversity. And sure, if a product has special meaning for a particular season that’s cool, but I think wines definitely can do the same thing on that front – it’s all about your associations.


    April 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm

  10. The point I’m making about winter warmers (stout is not in that category, but Russian Imperial Stout is) is in the context of Jurgen Gothe’s December ‘Drink of the Week’ being Tiger. It’s not terribly appropriate for the weather here at that time of year. Unlike Singapore, the seasonality of beer in BC is very distinct. I don’t know of any brewery in BC that releases a winter warmer outside of winter.

    The main consideration I’m trying to express with respect to the seasonality of beer, is that for those who drink lager and pale ale in BC throughout the whole year, they are missing out on choosing a style of beer that is more in sync with the weather; that there are beers, known as winter warmers, that are specifically brewed for consumption during cold weather. This is historical with respect to their Northern European origin.

    I think this speaks to your point about diversity. However, I can’t agree that seasonality is not worthy of consideration. If it were predominantly about choosing versatility, then the choices would narrow and diversity would suffer. Really, I think you would agree it’s more a matter of choosing what is most appropriate for a given context.

    Nevertheless, my remark about wine may deserve reconsideration. Even though, as you say, their release is variable, if their consumption has a distinct seasonality that is reflected in the choice of varietal for a given season, perhaps I stand to be corrected.


    April 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm

  11. Fair enough points. And I agree with the silly inappropriate choice of tiger.

    I suppose when I drink a stout I tend to go for the Imperials!

    Re: diversity and versatility. I understand your point there but I think that our logics are crossed here. I meant not that one single beer should be as versatile as possible, but rather that the range and diversity of beers allows for versatility across the entire spectrum of beer (or wine for that matter). I suppose that’s what I appreciate most.

    I probably just misstated my point about seasonality a bit. I think it’s important, I just don’t think the particular release date is important. So I agree with that. And, I certainly associate certain seasons with certain beers and certain wines. But I’m happy to have more than just the ‘seasonal’ types available at any given moment.

    As for the seasonality of wine, I think it does exist, but that it is more than just variety based. It is also stylistic and regional. There are just so many ways to make a Chardonnay that it is hard to say Chard itself is for one season. A crisper more minerally chard that doesn’t undergo malo-lactic fermentation is more appropriate for hot weather and for occasions where you want a bit more freshness. A high alcohol malo-lactic chard, on the other hand, could easily go with a heavier wintery dish. But, I think that wine making style combined with regional style and terroir differences add up to make certain wines ‘appropriate’ for certain seasons and less so for others. Sort of like how you probably won’t see me drinking a high alcohol double IPA on a blasting hot summer day, but I might go for a simple dry hopped single fermentation IPA at a reasonable alcohol level.


    April 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm

  12. […] writing from people who actually know beer, rather than wine writers throwing beer lovers an occasional mangled bone. This has spurred a growth in craft beer sales that brewers and import agents have responded to […]

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