Top Menu

Archive | beer & wine

It’s not only beer

grapesWines & Vines reports Americans are drinking more wine than ever, and appear to be moving away from mega-brands.

Overall wine consumption reached an all-time high of 279 million cases in 2005, a 3.3% increase. Brands selling fewer than 1 million cases grew at double that rate. Smaller-production wines are also expected to drive industry growth in 2006.

One million cases equates to about 77,000 beer barrels (at 31 gallons per barrel) in volume, but quite a bit more in cash sales. So we’re not talking tiny, but many of those wineries are way smaller, surviving based on what’s inside the bottle rather than an advertising budget.

Sound familiar?

Beer, cheese and wine school

The Tria Fermentation school begins classes tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct. 18) with Prof. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware at the helm.

The Philadelphia school is the brainchild of Jon Myerow, who also owns the Innovate cafe Tria. He’s focusing on wine, cheese and beer, with classes led by by winemakers, fromagers, brewmasters, authors and other fermentation experts.

Food & Wine magazine recently picked the Tria Fermentation School as one of “America’s 50 most amazing wine experiences.”

Upcoming classes include:

BEER: The Extreme Beers of Dogfish Head, with Sam Calagione, Wednesday, October 18, 6:30-8 p.m., $30.

CHEESE: The Artisanal American, with Liz Thorpe, Friday, October 20, 7:30-9 p.m., $45. Thorpe, Director of Wholesale at New York’s famed Murray’s Cheese, and co-author of the forthcoming Murray’s Cheese Handbook, will present her six favorite autumnal American cheeses.

BEER: Brewing with Wood with Rob Tod. Tuesday, October 24, 6:30 to 8 p.m., $40. Tod, Founder of Allagash Brewing in Maine, will discuss four examples of wood-aged beers from Allagash along with examples from California’s Russian River and Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin breweries.

WINE: High Elevation Wines from Down Under with Michael Dhillon. Wednesday, November 1, 6:30-8 p.m., $50. Australia’s Dhillon will share the trials, tribulations and extraordinary rewards of high altitude winemaking and small productio.

WINE: The Allure of the Languedoc with Bruno LaFon, Friday, November 3, 6:30- 8 p.m., $45. Students will learn why LaFon, a former Burgundian winemaker from the family of Domaine des Cômtes Lafon, headed to Languedoc to participate in the rebirth of the region. LaFon will host a tasting of his delicious estate wines.

WINE & CHEESE: Classic Pairings with Michael McCaulley. Monday, November 6, 6:30-8 p.m., $50. After covering wine and cheese basics, McCaulley will introduce students to some classic marriages that have withstood the test of time as well as some more modern pairings.

BEER: The Dark Side with Tom Baker. Wednesday, November 8, 6:30-8 p.m., $35. Baker, founder of recently departed Heavyweight Brewing, will debunk the myths and demonstrates the incredible diversity of black beer.

CHEESE: Spanish Dairy Rising with Adrian Murcia. Tuesday, November 14, 6:30-8 p.m., $45.

The school is located at 1601 Walnut Street, Suite 620, and the number to call for information is 215.972.7076.

Come on, NY mag, take beer seriously

New York Magazine – high profile in a high impact market – has a story about beer. Before you begin celebrating with hopes another mainstream publication gets it read what Stephen Beaumont has to say at World of Beer. (The magazine piece is online, but you should read his commentary, then use the link he provides to the article.)

Beaumont points out that this is not an altogether terrible story, but that the end result of rounding up what the magazine calls “untrained but enthusiastic drinking aficionados” can frustrate those of us who know something about the beers described. He writes:

Which makes me wonder if these same magazines would assemble a tasting panel to cast judgment on a mix of chardonnays, ports, Champagnes, sherries and first growth Bordeaux. Somehow, I think not.

Bingo. Quite honestly, I think it is easier for somebody to “understand” when they taste a great wine than it may be when they taste a great beer – because beer covers a wider spectrum of flavors. Certainly few magazines are likely to take a couple of chardonnays, a single viognier, a sauvignon blanc and lump them in a group with a catchy name (such as “Ordering in” – one the NY mag uses in “Ales in Comparison”).

I have a category here for beer and wine (and will file this post there), but the comparisons can make me uneasy. There are times when a glass of wine tastes better than a glass of beer (though I could add vice versa). A bottle of wine may have attributes than no bottle of beer shares. That’s why comparing Wine, the category to Beer, the category gives me reason to pause.

Attitudes toward the two, those can be compared, and that’s why Beaumont’s conclusion that “most of those procedural errors could be easily fixed if editors just instructed their staff to treat their beer tastings as seriously as they would a panel assessment of wines” rings so true. Also, if they had to foot the bill for 21 bottles of top-line wine (17 really, plus a few for Yellow Tail and friends) then they might have thought twice.

We just returned from Northern California, where we drank truly wonderful wine and equally wonderful beer. One difference is that the beer was cheaper. We’re not talking $300 and $500 bottles of wine (at the winery – forget the restaurant wine lists) but really good Sonoma County wines that cost $20-$35 a bottle (750ml).

Yet if you are looking for that “something else” in the bottle – could be terroir or whatever reason some people use to justify buying trophy wines – then nuance (or creativity or regard for tradition) is just at prominent in Sonoma Country beers such as Russian River Damnation or Bear Republic Racer 5 as it is in the best wines. Damnation costs $8 for a 750ml bottle, Racer 5 just over $3 for a 22-ounce bottle (and $7.99 for a six-pack).

Those beers should probably cost more, and do by the time they get to New York City. I’m not rooting for them to command wine prices just so they’ll be taken seriously, but it going to take something to keep one from being dismissed because it “looks like road tar.”

The magazine panelists dissed some excellent beers (be sure you read Beaumont’s detailed rebuttal), so it’s not like they weren’t getting the good stuff. That’s the discouraging part.

Beer: Simple or complex?

French wine philosopher Pierre Boisset once said:

“Wine is at the same time simpler than people say and more complex than they think.”

Pretty easy to plug in the word beer for wine and make as much sense.

The quote comes from Hugh Johnson’s delightful memoir A Life Uncorked and he bring it up to make a point.

“Any fool can make a subject complex and any fool can say it is simple. But how much do you have to understand to grasp the essentials?” Johnson asks.

He goes on to write that most people try either too hard at wine or not hard enough, that it is an all-or-nothing passion.

“So what does the reasonable, perfectly balanced person need to know? That wine is not one thing, but many. To appreciate it you don’t have to swallow an encyclopaedia, but you do have to pay attention.”

Again, the analogy holds up well, just as it would for cheese, jazz or … pick your passion.

Blurring the line between beer and wine

My first thought on seeing the headline “Craft Beer Steps Into Wine Country” was that wine country (Northern California) was one of the early beachheads for craft beer.

In fact, the story in Advertising Age (warning, sometimes you can link here and later the story will be listed as paid content) the story notes that small-batch brewers are “increasingly cribbing vintners’ marketing techniques in an effort to keep volume and prices buzzing.”

Methods long synonymous with high-end wine marketing, such as reserve bottlings, vintage dating, future-allocation programs and even vertical tastings (in which drinkers compare multiple vintages of the same beverage) are becoming increasingly commonplace among craft brewers.

The story looks into pricing, reporting how Grand Teton in Wyoming is able to charge twice as much for a single one-liter “reserve” bottle than it does for a regular six-pack Of course there is the success of Stone Brewing’s Vertical Epic Ales.

Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch says the brewery’s emphasis on vintages has created a demand for older bottles. A 2002 bottle, which cost $4.99 upon release, fetched $400 on eBay last November. Mr. Koch says that degree of consumer enthusiasm has driven production from 300 bottles in 2002, the inaugural bottling, to 7,500 bottles this year, which is on pace to sell out.

“It really is a lot like selling fine wine, very boutique-ish,” Fred Rosen of Sam’s Wine and Spirits in Chicago told the reporter. “The beer and wine sections are looking more alike all the time.”

Wine should be so lucky.

Powered by WordPress