Almost every serious beer lover I know also loves wine, at least to some degree. And while you’ll hear folks — myself included — despair that wine gets all the attention from the mainstream media while beer has to fight for every column inch, you rarely, if ever, hear beer writers disparage the product itself. That’s true of winemakers, especially, who often say quite candidly that “it takes a lot of beer to make good wine.” And judging by the sales figures, most consumers seem to happily consume both beer and wine (among much else). So could somebody please tell me why so many wine writers have their heads up their asses when it comes to beer? This is getting seriously ridiculous. Every few months it seems some prominent (and not so prominent) wine writer goes on the attack against beer in some misguided belief that it’s a wine vs. beer world. I just don’t understand the rationale. It’s sad, and not a little pathetic. Are they afraid of beer becoming wine’s equal in terms of public perception? Is that going to make their careers suffer? How is tearing down beer somehow raising the status of wine? And where did this idea that the two are in any way rivals even come from? I mean, seriously, what the fuck?
The latest shot across the self-manufactured bow comes from across the pond. It was sent to me by a Bulletin reader (thanks Glen) who referred to the author as “either a world-class douche bag or the world’s greatest troll, [he] can’t decide which. This tool and his ilk are almost wholly responsible for [his] disdain of wine and all things oenological.” After reading it, I can’t say I disagree with his assessment. Malcolm Gluck is, by all accounts, a well-respected British wine writer who writes a column — Superplonk — in the Guardian newspaper.
50 years ago only 5% of the nation [The UK] drank wine. Now it is nearer six times that, pubs struggle to sell beer, and the amount of wine imported keep on rising. Why? Well, beer is only drunk by losers and sadsacks, unsexy people who care nothing for their minds or their bodies.
That’s point one. Point two is that wine goes with the spicy foods we like (which no beer does), is much more of a communal activity and, when it comes down to it, encourages livelier and more intelligent conversation. When was the last time you heard a beer drinker pass a witty remark? Beer drinkers are also terrible lovers, awful husbands, and untidy flatmates.
Well-known British beer writer Roger Protz has already written a short rebuttal in the Guardian, that’s linked from the original piece. In Let’s Hear It For Beer, he points out that “even wine-obsessed Oz Clarke is enjoying the current renaissance in British brewing.” Protz continues:
I don’t deny that sales of wine have increased in Britain. But we still drink far more beer: wine has overtaken beer in the off-trade but beer easily outsells it in pubs, in spite of the best efforts of Gluck’s much-loved Labour government to knacker the pub trade with the smoking ban and regular hikes in beer duty.
Beer is in fact enjoying a remarkable renaissance. I’m talking of craft beer, quality beer, brewed by craftsmen, not the bland and tasteless Euro-fizz produced by global brewers. Close to 250 new craft breweries have opened in the past three years. There are more than 500 breweries operating in Britain and choice and diversity have never been better. Thanks to the efforts of craft brewers, drinkers have a profusion of choice, with good old mild and bitter joined by genuine India Pale Ales, porters, stouts, old ales and barley wines and new styles such as golden ales and fruit beers.
While sales of mass-produced lagers are in freefall, the demand for craft beers has seen their sales rise by more than 10% a year. This should be welcomed, not decried with the kind of mindless abuse used by Malcolm Gluck. Britain is a country with a proud brewing heritage, a heritage now enjoying a spirited revival. I’m sorry to disappoint you, Malcolm, but beer will not go away.
My friend and colleague Martyn Cornell likewise commented in the Guardian, and also on his Zythophile blog:
How very sad that this could be written in one of the greatest brewing nations in the world, even in jest. Malcolm, you’re badly dissing the thousands of dedicated people who work in Britain’s 550-plus new small breweries, and its surviving family brewers, producing world-beating beers. I can’t understand how any professional drinks writer could write something that appeared to show he knew nothing about what was happening at places such as Meantime in Greenwich, Thornbridge in Derbyshire or BrewDog in Scotland, to name only three.
But let’s look at this another way. It’s obviously meant to be provocative because it’s too absolutely bellicose to be taken seriously. If Gluck means what he writes, he’s an obvious idiot who no one could possibly take seriously and if he doesn’t, well then he’s an irrelevant charlatan who will soon be ignored and no one will take seriously. So it begs the question. Why do it? Can the momentary flutter of the hit count rising and a deluge of angry commenters be worth showing the world you know nothing about that which you claim to be an expert? Because who but the snobbishly effete would continue to hang on his every word about wine, yet that’s not even his core audience. In a review of his book Superplonk, he’s described as a “self-styled champion of the ordinary wine drinker, fighting against the perceived snobbery and stuffiness of the wine world.” What person who fits that description would ever agree with his opinion or indeed, wouldn’t have the occasional beer? The simple answer? No one. I can’t imagine a more snobbish opinion so it’s doubly odd to me that he considers himself a friend of the anti-snob.
I hope I don’t have to make it clear that I’m not speaking about most wine writers, but only a vanishingly small number of them. I know many, many wine writers who don’t hate beer and would never think of attacking it. But the fact remains that I know of not one instance where a beer writer attacked wine. Perhaps a very thorough search might uncover one, but that in and of itself is telling. This is not a war. A war involves two sides. It’s snobbish terrorism. This is certain wine writers deciding for no appreciable reason to pick on beer, to attack it unprovoked.
Toward the end of today’s anti-beer invective, Gluck refers to himself as a “professional booze hack,” which I’d offer is only half right. He’s shown himself to be an obvious hack — I’ll grant him that — but he’s in no way a professional. Hopefully, enough people will recognize that fact and he will indeed become irrelevant. But I’m left wondering why so many wine writers see fit to attack beer. It makes no sense. They’re both wonderful alcoholic beverages that each have their merits. There’s no reason the world can’t include both. It’s not a contest. Almost everyone in the world seems to get that. Too bad the people who don’t often have a byline.