Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

jm chen

Is beer more complex than wine?

Recommended Posts

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.


Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.


aka Michael

Chi mangia bene, vive bene!

"...And bring us the finest food you've got, stuffed with the second finest."

"Excellent, sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.


Flickr: Link

Instagram: Link

Twitter: Link

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

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...


Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

  • Like 1

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.


Notes from the underbelly

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Beer is MUCH more complex than wine.  Both in process, and the range of products.  It's not about appreciation, it's about complexity.  Coffee compounds are counted around 20k, beer about half that, IIRC.  

 

Wine people don't like these facts.  Beer is also older and has a much larger history.  

  • Like 1

 

Hector Litre (hL)

sourcer.ca

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, Hector Litre said:

Beer is MUCH more complex than wine.  Both in process, and the range of products.  It's not about appreciation, it's about complexity.  Coffee compounds are counted around 20k, beer about half that, IIRC.  

 

Wine people don't like these facts.  Beer is also older and has a much larger history.  

Sources?

 

See my comments above.

 

Read a bit more about wine history before you make statements like your second one. Grapes will naturally ferment if left alone and create alcohol because of ambient yeasts on the grapes. Do you really think this wasn't discovered a long long time ago by people finding themselves pleasantly affected by the product?

  • Like 3

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I thought mead was the oldest archeological record (so far) human produced alcoholic beverage.   Then beer.   Then wine.

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, nickrey said:

Sources?

 

See my comments above.

 

Read a bit more about wine history before you make statements like your second one. Grapes will naturally ferment if left alone and create alcohol because of ambient yeasts on the grapes. Do you really think this wasn't discovered a long long time ago by people finding themselves pleasantly affected by the product?

 

Sources:  The brewing industry.  I've been brewing professionally since 1991, and brewing personally longer than that.  You need to read up on how to make beer.  Wine is crushed grapes and ferment.  Brewing has choice of ingredients, blended manufactured ingredients that grapes couldn't come close to, spices such as hops, fruit, and spices, choice of added yeast strains as wort arrives inoculated, and different final forms such as cask ale, unfiltered bottled, canned, or kegged form.  There are beers out there that you wouldn't recognize as beer.  There are ingredients out there that you wouldn't know as being mash-tun extenders.  

 

Wine is wine.  That process is hugely simple compared to beer.  The microbiology alone for beer is that diverse and people continue to study its history.  I did a mycological study on fermentation science nomenclature.  Canadian wine experts hang with me and I inform them about microbiology and how wild strains propagate and how seasonality, weather, and agriculture affects flavours.  

 

Believe me, I've read way more than you have.  Way more.  There is no such thing as "ambient yeasts".  They are wild strains.  And I know which ones do what to wine. 

 

And you don't make wine, only to find out what it does to you.  You know this before you make it.  Beer was the mistake that was made that changed nomads to farmers, due to the localized "magic" that was only available in river valleys.  That magic is also wild strains at the Tigris and Euphrates, namely Mesopotamia.  Those nomads were using grain for unleavened bread, but tripped over micro when it rained.  

 

But that's not what the complex was referring to.  Complexity comes from raw ingredients and processes in manufacturing.  The diversity of beers around the world makes wine look very restricted.  

 

As for mead, I can say this:  Micro needs a certain concentration of carbohydrates in order to function.  Honey can be considered a processed food, by bees.  That concentration of carbs is too high to be assimilated.  That's why it doesn't go bad.  Diluted to a lesser concentration, and wild strains take advantage.  I've read nothing about diluted honey solution turning into mead. 

 

I've made mead before, and it's quite interesting.  Most of it is flavoured because true mead is pretty much flavourless.  Knocks you on your ass though.  

 

Here's a pic of some traditional Zambian white beer.  Hilarious stuff.  No wine comes close to this kind of divergence.  

Screen Shot 2019-10-25 at 12.06.23 PM.png


Edited by Hector Litre (log)

 

Hector Litre (hL)

sourcer.ca

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Hector Litre said:

 

  Beer was the mistake that was made that changed nomads to farmers, due to the localized "magic" that was only available in river valleys.  That magic is also wild strains at the Tigris and Euphrates, namely Mesopotamia.  Those nomads were using grain for unleavened bread, but tripped over micro when it rained.  

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I read about that theory, I thought the author was joking - namely, that beer civilized mankind and we turned from nomads to farmers because humans wanted to make beer. 

 

But that theory kept coming up in more books and I started taking it seriously. 

 

There was some kind of evidence that the settlers could have grown different types of edible plants other than grain used for beer that was easier and more efficient and settlers had knowledge of these other edible plant stuff. 

 

But the settlers chose to grow the much more difficult beer grains instead so this supported the view that we became civilized owing to beer.  

 

 

It's FRIDAY!! so the thought is a lot of drinking for the weekend. I finished my last drop of beer like 3 days ago and have only a half bottle of chardonnay left. 

 

Other than that, I'm stuck with uninteresting spirits for the evening - cheap whiskey etc. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I will not participate in the „what is more complex“ discussion, but I‘d like to add to some of the statements made:

 

3 hours ago, Hector Litre said:

Wine is crushed grapes and ferment

 

In a simplistic way, yes. However, the choice of grape cultivar, the age of the plants, the soil, the climate, the time & type of harvest, the way the preprocess the grapes, the way to extract the juice, strain of yeast(s), fermentation time, maturing time, cask aging, ... I think the amounts of variables are far greater that you might want to give credit for. An off-dry Riesling from the Palatinate is a very different animal to an aged Amarone from Venice. 

 

 

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Hector Litre said:

Brewing has choice of ingredients, blended manufactured ingredients that grapes couldn't come close to, spices such as hops, fruit, and spices, choice of added yeast strains as wort arrives inoculated, and different final forms such as cask ale, unfiltered bottled, canned, or kegged form.

 

Nothing would stop a winemaker from adding any of these „adders“ to their product, neither to sell their product in a plethora of presentations, other than people would likely not buy it (out of tradition or taste preference). 

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, eugenep said:

 

 

The first time I read about that theory, I thought the author was joking - namely, that beer civilized mankind and we turned from nomads to farmers because humans wanted to make beer. 

 

But that theory kept coming up in more books and I started taking it seriously. 

 

There was some kind of evidence that the settlers could have grown different types of edible plants other than grain used for beer that was easier and more efficient and settlers had knowledge of these other edible plant stuff. 

 

But the settlers chose to grow the much more difficult beer grains instead so this supported the view that we became civilized owing to beer.  

 

 

It's FRIDAY!! so the thought is a lot of drinking for the weekend. I finished my last drop of beer like 3 days ago and have only a half bottle of chardonnay left. 

 

Other than that, I'm stuck with uninteresting spirits for the evening - cheap whiskey etc. 

 

I don't think it was about eating.  It was about making bread.  We all know the legacy about bread.  As well, they knew plants grew.  They ate them, took dried seeds and made bread.  A rain, plus separation of grain from water, is all it takes.  The beginning of germination, then removal of the solids (the part this ancient baker would want) is where the attention would be paid.  Meanwhile, the liquid the grain was in, is now fermenting well.  It made no sense as he probably thought it was just water.  That rainwater, in today's terms is called brewing liquor.  He obviously tasted it and it was pleasant enough that he had more than a taste.  Probably the biggest future-changing experiment in human history.  

 

Because they were nomads, they could find grain elsewhere.  So Phil the Baker, as we'll call him, would try exactly what happened to him at this first location (let's call it the Magical Bakery).  Nothing happened and it confused him.  Nomading and nomading, he eventually came across the same Magical Bakery location.  He tried it and it happened.  This location is important as it is in a low-lying location that has an RH high enough that wild yeast strains propagate, as airborne yeasts and those that cling to the grain he was using.  This is very much along how wild strains cling to grapes.  

 

So fermentation is now tied to the location where he is at.  River valleys.  Namely, at the time, the meeting of the Tigris & Euphrates rivers, labelled as Mesopotamia.  This location is still called the Bread Basket.  

 

As for whiskey, that mash is much closer to the Mesopotamia version, then distilled.  In fact, I might imagine this is how Phil first discovered this stuff.  

  • Like 1

 

Hector Litre (hL)

sourcer.ca

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Duvel said:

 

Nothing would stop a winemaker from adding any of these „adders“ to their product, neither to sell their product in a plethora of presentations, other than people would likely not buy it (out of tradition or taste preference). 

 

The point of wine is to not use added strains.  And every other "controllable" aspect you mentioned, is also done in the agricultural side of malted and non-malted cereals that go into beer and whiskey.  Brewhouse applications far outreach those available to vintners.  Wine doesn't have coriander in it.  Nor any hops.  With a name like Duvel, I'm sure you're aware of how diverse beer gets.  For Belgian Ales, Duvel is a household name, comparatively.  My point is that Spanish wine and Venetian wine, are both wines, regardless of flavour compounds and subjective tasting.  Objective complexity from a biochemistry lab POV shows how many compounds measured well beyond what a palate can measure.  Coffee reigns supreme.  


 

Hector Litre (hL)

sourcer.ca

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Hector Litre said:

The point of wine is to not use added strains.


This is not correct. Wine makers can buy and utilise easily an array of specific yeast strains.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Hector Litre said:

Wine doesn't have coriander in it.


Neither should beer ...

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some people like Beer

 

Some people like Wine

 

and some people like both.

 

its not complicated at all.

  • Like 2
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
33 minutes ago, rotuts said:

Some people like Beer

 

Some people like Wine

 

and some people like both.

 

its not complicated at all.

Yep, I would much rather partake of both than argue about either. 

  • Like 3

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Duvel said:


This is not correct. Wine makers can buy and utilise easily an array of specific yeast strains.

 

Availability doesn't mean it should happen.  And I'm fully aware that it's available.  I ran a yeast lab decades ago.  


 

Hector Litre (hL)

sourcer.ca

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Similar Content

    • By liuzhou
      Picked this up this morning, not because I wanted it, just to add to my collection of silliness.
       

       
       
       
      Love the brewery's honesty in their choice of name.
       
      My only question is "Why? I mean "Why?'" (to be uttered in a tone of despair).
       
      It tastes like some one had a glass of grapefruit juice with breakfast and then forgot to wash the glass before pouring a beer hours later.
       
    • By liuzhou
      500 years ago, Martin Luther started off the Reformation. In a way, this not only changed religious affairs in Europe, but also changed our beer.
       
      Article here.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...