Book review

Beer beats wine in my book

Grape vs Grain
Charles Bamforth
Cambridge University Press, HB, 209 pages
Bamforth’s book delves into a topic dear to my heart – why, in so many way, wine has such a classy image compared to beer. A reputation that is in marked contrast to the realities of the beverage.bamforth-grape_vs_grain
For example a winemaker is considered some sort of skilled master when, basically, he juices grapes and leaves them in tanks or barrels. A brewer, on the other hand, is far, far, far more involved in the creation of his beverage from ensuring the water is clean, picking the grains, the hops, the yeasts and any number of other ingredients, putting them together and then monitoring its progress and perhaps adding more ingredients along the way.
Related to that is the added pressure of batch consistency. A winemaker can simply shrug their shoulders and saw ‘‘terroir’’ to explain why their wines don’t taste the same from year to year. A brewer can’t really do that – even though their ingredients also grow in the ground, they need to ensure that their beers retain a consistency in flavour.Then there’s the rubbish that wine, with far fewer variations in flavour, is an ideal partner for food. What a load of crap – a beer kills wine in terms of flavours and therefore, the potential for food matching.
Bamforth looks at these and other areas and concludes that beer is at least the equivalent of wine in some areas, surpassing it in others. Which is no great surprise really – Bamforth has worked in and around the brewing industry for about 30 years.
Still, he is fairly even-handed when dealing with wine’s claims. I myself would have preferred wine to get a bit more of a kicking – not because I don’t like the stuff but rather the over-important attitude of many wine drinkers.
While there is no doubt Grain vs Grape furthered my beery education, there are a few flaws in the book. Bamforth is fond of repetition – I lost count of the times Bamforth complained about waiters not pouring his beer down the middle of the glass.
And, despite the knowledge gained, I’m not sure it was worth the $35 is cost me to own this slim book.

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7 replies »

  1. This is an argument I’ve found myself having numerous times, but I’ve never been able to aptly put it as you have in the second paragraph. I don’t think I’ve thought about the “brewer vs winemaker” angle in that light before, so thanks very much for laying out so well!

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