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A question of perception

The other day Mark, in his blog Pencil&Spoon, wrote a very interesting post on beer and wine, which actually carries on an old discussion originated on that "Beer is the new wine" thing.

First of all, I want to make clear that to me "Beer is the new wine" is just a load of bollocks. It implies that beer is a lesser drink, when it's not, if anything, it's more versatile and varied than wine. That said, I understand where it comes from and why. Consumers must be addressed with words that are familiar and can be associated with things they already know and are comfortable with, which in a way, is the point Mark wants to make.

But this is not what I wanted to discuss with you, but the origins of the difference that exists between wine and beer in the minds of the average consumers.

The enigmatic Cooking Lager says in his comment that it all comes from wine being an imported drink and therefore, historically only affordable for the elites. This is partly true if it's countries like England we are talking about, but misses the bigger picture. Wine is considered a more sophisticated drink even in those countries and regions were it is produced, and even though, through the ages, it has also been an everyman's drink.

The reason, as I see it, is that most people see wine as a drink, while beer is seen as a brand or generic product. If you don't believe me, go and ask someone about their favourite wine and you'll likely hear something like Australian Chardonnay or Chianti. Then ask that same person about their favourite beer, and you'll likely hear Pilsner Urquell, Guinness, etc.

That's because wine is associated with very nice things like harvest, terroir, D.O.C, etc, some of which carry a lot of mysticism. 

Yes, it's true that to a certain extent, they've been hijacked by marketing people, but they are still facts. If a wine was made with grapes grown in the Bordeaux region picked in 2006, then it's going to be a Bordeaux 2006, regardless of its quality. Beer, unfortunately, doesn't have anything remotely similar in the mind of the average consumer. Phrases like "carefully chosen ingredients" don't mean much, and they are actually also used to sell even cat food.

Much of the blame is the macros', but to be fair, the brewing process doesn't make it very easy, either.

A couple of weeks ago someone involved in the wine industry in Argentina told me how surprised she was when she read how complex the brewing process is. At its most basic, making wine is a very straightforward affair. Grapes are picked, left to ferment, their juice is extracted and then left to mature for some and that's it, you've got wine. All this can be illustrated with beautiful images of vineyards in sun drenched slopes, labourers picking the grapes by hand, an oak barrel in a dark cellar and a glass of wine. You don't even need words! Try to do something similar with brewing (and you must start with malting), good luck with that!

All this, together with the media, have resulted in people being able (or at the very least, believing they are able) to understand wine on a level that is far superior to how they understand beer.

And yet, is all this necessary? Does beer really need people to understand why an English Pale Ale is different than a Belgian Pale ale, as long as they are aware that there are differences?

A long time before starting to rant in this blog I was already a pretty beer curious person. I loved to drink new beers, or actually, new beer brands. Often I would come across something very different from the average. Back then I didn't ponder on why that beer was so different, the only thing that was important to me was whether I liked it or not.

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