A Seattle friend sent me a link to this (thanks Craig), and, unfortunately I think the piece is more indicative of many wine drinkers’ feelings toward beer than I wish were the case. This is perhaps the most annoying and personally sad feature of the wine vs. beer debate. In my experience, most beer people (defined by me loosely as people who claim beer as their primary drink of choice) also love wine and spirits, too. But many — perhaps even a majority? — of wine people seem to think, as Mike Myers might put it, “if it ain’t wine, it’s crap.” Now this isn’t true of winemakers, who generally love beer and spirits, at least all the ones I know. But wine snobs, many of whom are wine writers, definitely seem to project a worldview in which wine is the only beverage worthy of reverence and respect.
It feels a little like the democrats vs. republicans. Republicans are the minority with all the money and power and consequently get to decide what is sophisticated (meaning whatever they like), usually wine. They are “above” the people. Many with naked ambition want to be them and so act like them and, when polled, vote with them. Then pollsters declare wine is the preferred drink, while beer still outsells it four to one. Democrats, by contrast, are “of” the people, prefer the people’s drink, beer, but are too unfocused and like so many different things that their message — if indeed there even is one beyond “enjoy all of life’s pleasures” — never gets any traction. Now for those of you with opposite tastes, simmer down, I’m only making an analogy based on gross generalizations and very broad stereotypes.
But this leads us to today’s screed, “Climbing the Liquor Ladder: Going from Beer to Wine,” by wine and cigar writer Jennifer Jordan. The piece appears on BlogCritics, subtitled “a sinister cabal of superior writers.” Jordan also is the senior editor of a website about wine, Savor Each Glass, and about cigars, What’s Knot to Love.
She begins by detailing her early, not so pleasant, experiences with beer drinking from the time she was a child through college, after which time she then trades “up” to wine and … well I’ll let her tell it.
That is why, after college, where beer was just short of flowing from dorm room faucets, I decided to climb the corporate ladder of liquor consumption, with the next rung up being wine.
Initially I made this choice because of the health benefits of wine. Unlike beer, with each pint providing more belly fat in alcohol’s version of 8-minute abs, wine possesses several things beneficial to a person’s health, with particular concern to the heart. But, health benefits aside, I took this plunge because wine is so much more than alcohol.
However, taking the plunge from beer to wine wasn’t easy. While beer is junior varsity, wine is varsity. With wine, you’re playing with the big boys and there are several rules to keep in mind for a smooth transition.
Okay, there’s plenty not to like here and enough that’s simply wrong that I could go on and on about (especially about the health benefits angle), but hang on, there’s more. She then lists her five rules for “trading up” to drinking wine and how it differs from beer drinking, to help us members of the great-unwashed mass of beer drinkers — the hop polloi? — move up the corporate drinks ladder. That’s a hoot. Sit down and strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
1. “Don’t Play Drinking Games.” In this, she suggests “beer was made for drinking competitions” and that “[w]ine, simply put, is not a toy.” I agree that you shouldn’t play drinking games, but that advice holds across all alcohol, no alcohol is a toy. The problem isn’t that it’s beer, as she believes, but with the age and immaturity of the people playing the games. It’s like blaming the gun for a game of Russian roulette.
2. “Wine should be sipped, not chugged.” Here she claims chugging is ideal for beer because if you hate the stuff, as she claims to do, then you’ll taste less of it. She should do marketing for the big breweries, because that is the idea behind their “ice cold” propaganda. The colder and quicker you drink, the less you’ll taste of the mass-produced beers. But she also writes that “[e]ach sip of wine should provide a new experience for your taste buds, making your beer bottles boil with increasing jealousy in the process.” Well I don’t think a bottle Rochefort Grand Cru or Westmalle Tripel would be terribly jealous of a bottle of Blue Nun or any Gallo box wine. The fact is there is crap beer and there is crap wine. But good beer is meant to be sipped every bit as much as fine wine.
3. “Enjoy the Variety.” Apparently there are only “several different types of beer” and most taste “relatively the same.” But with wine any two bottles of wine “can taste dramatically unalike.” Cork dorks are — I love this phrase, like it’s a gift from the gods — “granted with the ability to pick from a variety of years, types, and flavors.” Oh, thank you great and terrible Oz for granting me this privilege. She then says you can pick “red wine or white wine” from all over the world. Wow, red and white. That takes me back to the Blues Brothers movie. “We’ve got both kinds of music, country and western.” As I probably don’t even need to say, there are far more varieties of beer than wine and they only taste the same to someone who has an undeveloped palate. And there are, of course, several beers that are vintage dated and can be aged.
4. “Embrace the History and the Culture.” Wine is apparently “packed with culture and history.” Does she think beer-making just sprang up last Tuesday? It’s at least as old — and possibly older — than wine with an equally rich heritage. How is it possible she doesn’t know that? She later comments that she was “merely saying that wine drinkers should embrace the history of wine” but given that it is one of her “rules” for transitioning from beer to wine it seems quite reasonable to infer that she feels beer’s history is not worthy, or at least is not as worthy as wine’s saga.
5. “Behave Yourself.” According to Jordan, “wine demands a certain sophistication that beer refutes: when drinking beer, the more barbaric the behavior the better.” This is the most pernicious propaganda in the beer hater’s arsenal. And again it comes back to context. Of course there are many people who abuse beer. But there are also homeless winos swilling wine out of a paper bag. That wine is inherently more sophisticated than beer is merely a product of our culture. It’s certainly not the case in much of the rest of the civilized world, Belgium being perhaps the best example.
In the end, she concludes that “beer and wine are on different sides of the alcohol spectrum” with beer being merely the “sippy-cup that prepares you for the real thing” — wine. I guess that makes all of us beer drinkers babies, but it’s hard to imagine a more childish, mis-informed opinion than that of Ms. Jordan.
There are a plethora of comments already over the last week (it first appeared on the 9th) and Jordan responds initially by saying her piece was meant to be “tongue in cheek” and that it’s just “opinion.” But so much of what she’s written is simply not true, that it’s hard to take the “I was just trying to funny” thing at face value. To me, it sounds more like the backpedaling of someone who suddenly realized they may have been wrong. In a later comment responding to her critics, Jordan replies. “That’s the great thing about an opinion piece: it’s an opinion. You don’t have to agree with me. I think wine is better than beer, you don’t. Who cares?” And that would be fine except that opinion should at least be based on fact, but her conclusions — which she calls opinions — flow directly from misinformation, whether deliberate or ignorant. We could prepare a laundry list of facts she’s gotten wrong from the variety of beer to the inherent lack of sophistication of beer. They are not merely opinions if they’re based on lies, in that case they’re stereotypes. It’s no different really from racial or ethnic stereotypes. And I know I’m on the fringes of opinion here, but I also believe that “opinions” like Jordan’s perpetuate the bad image that beer has today and certainly does nothing to change people’s perceptions and misconceptions about what beer is and has the potential to be. But Jordan just keeps telling all of the offended beer drinkers to relax, it’s just her opinion. It just feels like she’s still talking down to us, like she’s called us the “N” word but doesn’t think we should be upset because she’s just expressing her opinion.
She later writes that she was just being “cheeky” and that it was done “for humor.” She then expresses surprise that her piece “seemed to offend every Beer Drinker in the world (which again was not [her] intention).” How could she read what she wrote and not think beer drinkers would be offended? How is possible to re-read what she wrote and not think it would be reasonable to conclude that would be their response? It’s just baffling. But I’m still not ready to let her of the hook because it was “opinion,” was meant to be “humorous” and it wasn’t her “intention” to offend anyone. Those claims were all made after the article was published and so seem like justifications for what she wrote. But perhaps her true motives were revealed later responding to yet another critic. “Relax..this is an opinion piece with intended controversy (it’s controversy that gets traffic).” So like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, stirring up the pot with misinformation and “satire” is good for business. Facts don’t matter, but ratings do. Now that’s integrity. Whatever happened to journalistic ethics? I guess they don’t count if you call what you’re writing “opinion.”
Her persistent reliance on the “opinion” defense continues to rankle me. Perhaps our society does view it this way, but opinion shouldn’t be merely saying whatever comes into your head with no basis in reality. When you base an opinion on misinformation or ignorance, the opinion generated is likewise flawed and may properly be called wrong. I realize there are some people who can look at a photograph of our planet and still maintain that the Earth is flat, saying they’re free to hold such an opinion. And while technically they do have that freedom, who can blame the rest of us who see that opinion as misguided, ignorant or just plain wrong. As many have done in the comments to Jordan’s article, we are just as free to disagree and try to educate that person on why her “opinions” may be wrong because of the misinformation they’re based on. It almost goes without saying that Jordan is free to prefer wine to beer, but to justify her preference by arguing that wine is superior to beer is no longer mere opinion, but advocacy and a kind of unquestioning belief.
To her credit, Jordan got the approval of her boss to do a beer tasting this Friday with several beers suggested by her dissenters and there was a great deal of back and forth in the comments section coming up with the list. She supposedly will be writing up the results shortly thereafter. I don’t have high hopes for her conversion or seeing the light since she characterizes herself as “stubborn, but not unyielding.” I may be wrong — I too, am trying to keep an open mind — but she appears so strongly predisposed to her opinion that I doubt that one tasting of a sample of beer’s amazing diversity will be enough to change her mind. As we all know, prejudice is very hard to overcome. I have no problem with her preference for wine, but I — and every other beer lover — should have a problem with her prejudice against beer. Not only is it not justifiable, there’s really no reason to attack beer. I’m sure I could come up with just as many similar reasons why beer is more sophisticated than wine, but unlike a healthy percentage of wine drinkers, I believe you can lift up all available alcoholic choices without resorting to name-calling, vilification or worse. There’s simply no need to put one type down to raise the status of another. In the end, none are in fact better or worse than any other. There is just as much good and bad in all of them. It’s frustrating that wine and spirits tend to get much more positive coverage by the media than beer does, and articles like this one by Jennifer Jordan don’t help the situation, however unintentional she claims it to be. Every time I read one of these anti-beer diatribes, I continue to wonder. Why can’t we all just get along?