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Is beer more complex than wine?

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#1 jm chen

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 08:44 AM

One of our writers at Intrepid Media (and an enthusiastic home brewer) has published an article putting forward this controversial idea: beer is more complex than wine, and that's why wine people don't like it.

A Hop From the Grape Vine.

Among his points:

What am I saying? Beer is entirely lacking in intra-style consistency. What you expect from a beer style is a much more of a range, maybe even a guideline, than what you'd expect from a wine style. It can be hard to wrap your head around, and while that kind of radical difference is the thing that makes the beer geek in me go all woogy at the knees, I can see how that same inconsistency would drive somebody nuts if they didn't know what they were getting into, most especially if they're coming from a beverage experience based on clear cut expectations and a certain amount of predictability.

Thought the beer aficionados around here might be interested in reading and weighing in.
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#2 TongoRad

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 09:19 AM

I just don't think the distinction really needs to be made, myself, and the whole thing just smacks of defensiveness. Comparing a specific varietal like pinot gris to a catchall category like pale ale really doesn't make the case in any event. Also- if one were to seriously tackle this topic I would think the way to go about it is not by comparing source ingredients, but by comparing the end results.
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#3 Andrew Fenton

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 09:35 AM

Now, let's speak of wine. I, myself, am only slightly educated to wine (and this might even prove my point). I don't have as much experience with it. I understand that there are many varieties, made from many different types of grapes, from many different wine growing regions in the world, and they all have their own flavors and aromas and whatnot.

However, fact is this: when you open a bottle of wine, you pretty much know what you're getting. A merlot from California is going to taste roughly equivalent to a merlot from France...

Admission of ignorance + transparently false statement = where I stopped reading.

I should say, I like beer, and I like wine. I don't like reading ignorant people bloviate.
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#4 cdh

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 10:24 AM

This sounds like an objective statement that can be proven or disproven quantitatively. A little gas chromatography should reveal how many different flavorful compounds are in a sample of either drink... do enough samples and you should be able to get an idea of whether the statement is true or not.
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#5 tino27

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 10:27 AM

I, too, like both beer and wine. My take is that each can be simple or complex.

I will say this, however: even the most expensive of beers is far more accessible than those comparable bottles of Lafite Rothschilds or Petrus. I learned how to smell and taste in college by trying many local and imports at my local beverage warehouse (where they would let you mix up your own six-pack). Even the most expensive of imports was never more than $3 a bottle. $18 for six completely different flavors is a pretty good deal.

A lot of those same smelling/tasting skills carry over to wine tasting, but unless you have access to regular wine tastings, it's much harder to refine those skills.

Plus, there is much less guilt associated with dumping 12 ounces of a beer I don't care for down the drain rather than 26 ounces of wine.
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#6 eje

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 10:37 AM

I have this theory.

Okay. Let me pause for a second and say that this is a phrase that usually comes out of my mouth after a good deal of beer, and generally ends with me pontificating about the reproductive habits of Smurfs (It's mitosis, I tell you! Smurfette is a mutant.)

I suppose he has some superficial points; but, probably should have left this discussion at the bar with Smurfette...

Here's a better one:

A lot of people become primarily attracted to beer, wine, or spirits as an intoxicating beverage.

What factors influence that choice?

I first learned to like beer in High School. I bought a six pack of Augsburger Dark, hid it in the garage, and snuck out to drink it until I learned to like it. I don't really remember my motivation, other than I had read that dark beer was supposed to be better than the light beer I had been drinking (Mickey's Big Mouth, please don't judge me!) I learned to like and appreciate wine to impress a girlfriend in college. That relationship didn't last, as it turned out she had a greater interest in status and money than I could afford at the time. I had a passing interest in cocktails; but, didn't really start to appreciate how truly tasty they can potentially be until relatively recently.

Now, I drink mostly cocktails and beer, with the odd bottle of wine with dinner. I still appreciate wine; but, don't have a very active interest in it as a subject, at least compared to beer and cocktails.
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#7 jm chen

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 02:16 PM

I will say this, however: even the most expensive of beers is far more accessible than those comparable bottles of Lafite Rothschilds or Petrus.... Even the most expensive of imports was never more than $3 a bottle. $18 for six completely different flavors is a pretty good deal.

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This is a very good point. I, for one, have not gotten much of a wine-tasting education, and cost is certainly part of the reason. Maybe I should embark on a beer-tasting education instead...

I think in both cases, beer and wine, it's hard for me to generalize from what I know -- I love Bluebird Bitter, and I love Iron Horse Rosato di Sangiovese -- to what else I might like --other beers labeled "bitter"? I hated Iron Horse's Rosato of Pinot Noir...
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#8 mtigges

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 05:52 PM

Personally I don't think there's any possible debate. I agree with Chris, if you really want to know, do an analysis. But when the primary ingredient in beer goes through so many different kinds of processing before it's used, plus you add hops, and other spices ...

I just don't see how fermented pressed grapes, or even blends of different grapes could even approach the spectrum of flavours that you find in beer.

Regardless ... differences are subdued in wines, so even if wines are "more complex" however you define that ... it's obvious that it's easier to detect differences in beer. At least to me. And that aids enjoyment.

I vote beer. (But I enjoy wine.)

#9 nickrey

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Posted 05 February 2014 - 05:16 AM

Beer making is somewhat less forgiving than winemaking because you can always blend out the faults in wine; if you stuff up beer, it's gone.


I suppose beer making is a bit more like pastry or baking; formulaic and less forgiving. Wine is more like cooking where you can mix to get the flavour you want.


Anyone who says wine is not complex has a fairly high degree of ignorance on the number of grape varieties and the effects of terroir and climate on their expression, not to mention the effect of when the grapes are picked, how they are crushed, whether stems are left in, how long it is fermented and at what temperature, etc, etc. Then we get into types of oaks, time in barrel, and so on. There is also the impact of old versus new world techniques.


I suppose someone who likes country and western could find opera all the same and not as rich and as diverse as their music.


If you don't understand the language, the nuances, and the subtleties anything you don't know seems one dimensional.


I'd like to think that growing up in a beer-making family I appreciate the subtleties of the craft and the product . I also drink a wide variety and have learnt a lot about wine over the years. They are equally complex and diverse. Anyone who says different is likely to have more experience in the one they propose is more complex than the other.

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#10 paulraphael

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Posted 10 July 2015 - 07:29 AM

The range of what we call beer is so big that it makes any comparison tricky unless you agree on terms. Beers like Belgian lambics practically cross over into being wines, with their fruit ingredients and long aging. They're not just complex but are complex in many of the same ways as complex wines.


But if you compare typical beers to typical wines, a difference, as I see it, is in the type of complexity. Wines are like artisinal bread, where the challenge is to get as much flavor and as much control as possible with just one ingredient. Wheat or grapes. Beer is more like pizza. There's artisinal bread at the foundation (if you're lucky), and then it's about whatever else the chef wants to throw in.


That's a pretty reductive comparison, because wine's ingredients themselves offer a different kind of complexity. Grapes are subject to terroir, which for the most part barley and hops aren't. And wine develops much of its flavor while barrel aging and bottle aging, which the great majority of beers don't.


So I think wine complexity is a bit more about subtlety, and appreciation of a craft that offers the maker a lot of constraints. While beer complexity is more about range and creativity. It comes from more of an anything-goes culture and is made with a process that offers few constraints.

#11 Chelseabun

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Posted 10 July 2015 - 06:11 PM

I love both.  it doesn't have to be one or the other.  You can do your organoleptic assessment on both and be equally satisfied (or unsatisfied naturally).  I think we have seen a growth in craft brewing alongside developments in hop varieties that has given us some excellent beers.