Is there anything more refreshing than a cold beer at the end of a long day? How about a glass of red wine? If you can’t decide, you’re not alone.
Charles Bamforth, head of the UC Davis brewing program, discusses this dilemma in his newest book titled Grape vs. Grain: A Historical, Technological, and Social Comparison of Wine and Beer, which aims to correct common misconceptions held by the general public about both beverages.
“A belief has grown up that somehow wine is more complex, harder to produce and [more] healthful than is beer,” Bamforth said in an e-mail interview. “The reality is the opposite to this.”
All alcohol – beer included – holds the same valuable properties popularly perceived to be benefits held exclusively by red wine, which is reported to counter the risk of blood vessel blockage. In addition, beer contains more nutritional value than wine, such as B vitamins and silica, Bamforth said.
“Provided it is taken in moderation, of course,” he said.
Before coming to teach at UC Davis in 1999, Bamforth served as the deputy director-general of Brewing Research International, which is “…the premier technology and information organization providing technical information and research services to the global brewing malting and drinks industry,” according to the organization’s website.
His experience in the brewing industry led to the publication of the 224-page book, which provides the histories of beer and wine. It also contains social commentary, comparisons of brewing processes, types of beer and wine and future prospects.
Bamforth was initially inspired to write the book after hearing the phrase, “It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine,” which highlights the condescending sentiments that many wine-lovers hold concerning the value of beer compared to wine.
“It really irritates me,” he said. “Both wine and beer are great products, but the sophistication, complexity and genius of brewing is way ahead. I think the public deserve to read, in plain simple English, the honest reality that beer is a product of charm, too, and leads the way technically.”
The comparison between the beverages extends to production cost as well as preconceived societal views. The cost of producing and storing the grain used to make beer is much less than that of wine grapes, said James T. Lapsley, adjunct associate professor of the UC Davis viticulture and enology department. In addition, it can be produced in much larger quantities at a much lower cost.
“Our society tends to equate cost with quality, so, since beer is generally much less expensive than wine, our society thinks that beer is somehow inferior to wine,” Lapsley said. “We equate the cost of a product with quality. We don’t think about the utility of things.”
In addition, many people consider beer to be an industrial creation and wine to be a natural creation, Lapsley said. As a result, people who inherently consider “natural” things to be superior to “industrial” things would consider wine superior.
“However, from my perspective, the debate is off-target in that both products are different and shouldn’t be compared,” he said. “Comparing beer and wine is like comparing apples and oranges – both are fruits with distinct characteristics.”
While both grain and grapes can grow with distinct characteristics in terms of flavor, the different processes by which beer and wine are made cause these factors to be impossible to compare, Lapsley said.
“Beer does not vary from year to year,” he said. “Once a recipe is concocted, the malting and kilning processes determines the flavor for the most part.”
Bamforth compared the culture surrounding beer with that of football, which he said holds a “youthful razzmatazz” that is a far cry from the “more sedentary” wine and baseball.
“What I hope the book will do is have folks realize that wine should let loose its stays, climb down from its pompous pedestal and see the fun in life,” Bamforth said.
While Bamforth readily admits that he likes both beverages, his decision to remain in the brewing industry since 1978 suggests that his preference lies with his chosen field.
“I enjoy them both. But I have been in the brewing industry for 30 years,” he said. “I hope [my book] urges the world of beer to demonstrate that there is a fantastic spectrum of products that can appeal to drinkers of all types.”
RITA SIMERLY can be reached at email@example.com.