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I’m not anti-wine, I’m really not.

Without it, we wouldn’t have red wine vinegar, which I love in salad dressing by the way, or Sangria, one of my favorite ways to eat fruit. Heck, there are even times when it’s absolutely OK to drink the stuff plain. Just don’t tell me that its better than beer. Wine is capable of being as good as beer, sure, but not better.

So that was a little over the top I know, but sometimes us little guys have got to talk a big game to get noticed.

For most of the 20th century, beer in America was effectively simple and bland. Nothing more than a beverage served in mugs and pitchers and marketed to us with misogyny and meaningless tag lines like “less filling.” Wine on the other hand has been marketed with an air of sophistication. Served in special glasses, wine is described in terms that speak to its actual flavor profile and frequently recommended as a complement to a special meal. 

My goodness how things have changed.

The explosion of new breweries in America over the past 15 years has resulted in a vast array of beers. Beer today is unlike any other time in history. There has never been a better time or place to explore the potential flavors of beer than right now in the United States (particularly in large metropolitan areas like Chicago). Certainly, places like Germany, Belgium and United Kingdom have long traditions of making flavorful beer, but in terms of diversity and availability, none of them match the creative and wonderful beer being made by independent American breweries today.

We now have ready access to beers ranging from light-to-dark in color, thin-to-rich in body, tart-to-sweet in flavor and low-to-high in alcohol with all kinds of stops in between. Not to mention the many interesting flavors achieved by aging in barrels or by adding adjuncts such as spices, herbs, fruit and even vegetables. Recognizing this elevation of flavor in beer, many establishments have abandoned the rough and tumble mug in favor of specialty glassware designed to enhance the experience of drinking a particular beer. Menus now regularly provide flavor descriptions of particular beers that rival wine descriptions in their use of elevated language.

So, what are we to make of this new paradigm? I recommend exploration. Think outside the box of preconceived notions of the appropriate times to drink beer as opposed to wine. 

A few years ago, I set out to begin breaking down these barriers in my own small way with a group of friends. I convinced one such friend, we’ll call him Ed, to take the side of beverages fermented from grapes (aka – wine) while I would represent beverages fermented from grains (aka – beer) in a winner take all fundraising dinner where we would pair a wine and a beer with each of the four courses of a long dinner. The guests would vote for which beverage worked best as a complement to the dish being served. We’ve hosted a beer vs wine dinner four times and the results have been striking. Many of our guests commented on how surprised they were when they preferred the paired beer over the wine. Each year, the votes have been close and neither beverage has been able to claim clear dominance in satisfying our guests, and that is exactly the point from my perspective.

There are many exciting flavors out there for you to explore, so the next time you’re planning a special dinner, consider stopping by a well-stocked beer store and ask them about pairing with your planned menu, you might just find a new favorite.

Cheers – Keith

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