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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 30 Apr 98 12:27:56 -0700
Subject: Suds Snobs?
Forwarded-by: "Jack Doyle" <email@example.com>
Excerpted-from: Beer Drinkers Have Become Spitting Image of Wine Snobs
By NANCY KEATES
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 24, 1998
Wine critic John Frederick Walker recently had a humiliating experience at
the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia. Noticing that customers were paying as
much attention to the eight "craft brews" on tap as to the wine list, Mr.
Walker decided to go out on a limb and try a beer called Celis White
Luckenbach, a light-colored wheat beer served with a lemon wedge. The
waitress, observing that he had chosen "an outdoor beer," turned up her
nose. "It was as if I'd ordered the equivalent of a white zinfandel," says
An unlikely breed of connoisseurs is taking beer drinking to a new extreme,
way beyond the microbrew quaffers who favored the trendy output of small
brewers in the 1980s. As they sip and savor the multiflavored
concoctions,these new beer lovers are adopting the jargon and one-upmanship
of wine snobs. Like oeonphiles, they sniff, aspirate, swirl, taste and spit.
Then out pour the adjectives, like woody, fruity, hoppy, malty, yeasty and
The Right Suds
Restaurants and cooking schools are encouraging the beer fancy, holding
tasting dinners that match each course with the proper suds: What else would
one serve with duck, dried cherry and pistachio pate but Sam Adams Old
Fezziwig? And carbonnade of beef, Flemish style, fairly cries out for a
Brooklyn Brown. Breweries, meanwhile, are aging beers in wooden barrels,
making special "limited editions," producing magnum bottles for collectors
and putting batch numbers on their labels to give their product a vintage.
To "enlighten" its staff on the flavor and character of beers, the
celebrated New York restaurant Chanterelle held a beer-training session a
few months ago. The restaurant, which has a highly regarded wine list and
a master sommelier, now serves half a dozen specialty brews and a fruity
after-dinner beer called Framboise Lambic, which at $12 a serving is priced
higher than any wine Chanterelle sells by the glass. "It has a champagne
quality to it," says manager Lea Batzold, who insists that the sweet,
pinkish brew be served in a flute.
Even the Culinary Institute of America, which trains chefs, just hosted its
first-ever beer-and-food-pairing festival in Hyde Park, N.Y. About 400
students there have formed the Ale and Lager Educational Society, or ALES,
to taste beer and attend lectures by beer experts from England. The
institute has been teaching the intricacies of wine for more than 50 years.
"But people are tickled pink to see the underdog getting more
sophisticated," says associate dean Ken Turow.
Contradiction in Terms
Others are less easily amused. Some serious wine drinkers think "beer
connoisseur" is an oxymoron. They scoff at the idea that something made from
grain and flavored with hops could possibly rival the finesse and complexity
of the fruit of the vine, with so much attention lavished on climate and
growing conditions, grape varieties and time. "Wine is one step closer to
nature," says Joshua Wesson, a wine lecturer and owner of a wine store in
New York City. "Beer," he says "is a two-note samba."
Wineries are a bit confused about whether to fight or join in. In Northern
California wine country, two wineries have quietly installed their own
breweries. One of them, Sonoma Mountain Brewery, in Glen Ellen, is growing
its own hops and sells "estate beer," so called because the hops are grown
there and the water comes from its own well. Visitors to the prestigious
Benziger Family Winery two miles away, which owns the brewery, can stroll
through scenic hills of plump Merlot vines, taste wine and then head off to
the company's four acres of weedlike hops, where a German brewery imported
from the Black Forest was reassembled last year. "We've developed an
ultrapremium beer," says Tim Wallace, Benziger's chief executive officer.
A busload of beer lovers is hopping from brewery to brewery as part of a
four-hour Saturday lecture and beer-tasting trip. Among the attendees: a
dozen high-tech executives from Japan and Singapore, who, given the choice
of a round of golf or a round of beer, picked the latter.
"Kanpai," yells Teruo Tabata, as he sips a Portland beer called MacTarnahans
and scribbles his assessment on a sampling scorecard: "More adult," he
writes. "Bitter." Jim Long, the ponytailed guide of the Brew Bus tells him
the bitterness derives from the hops. "Aaah," says Mr. Tabata, and he
writes down "hoppy." He places the rest of the ale with the other
half-emptied four-ounce glasses littering the table and picks up the next
sample: a Haystack Black Porter. Mr. Tabata wrinkles his nose. "This is
hoppier," he says.
Later, Mr. Long will hand out Bachelor of Beer diplomas to those who have
stayed awake. In real life, there are now college courses on brewing, and
"cellar books" in which collectors can paste labels and write comments.
Of course, all this sophistication is making "macro" brew drinkers
defensive. "I'm a Bud person," says Scott Albert, who owns a specialty-food
store in Park City, Utah. He says beer snobs are taking the fun out of
something he loves. "People are constantly asking what's wrong with me, why
do I drink beer without flavor."
© 1998 Peter Langston