Regular readers may have the impression that I don’t give much thought to wine—and they’d be right.
That doesn’t mean wine isn’t interesting or exciting; it certainly can be. A couple of years ago, I joined fellow Independent columnist and sommelier Katie Finn, and we presented each other (and friends) with the beverages we’re each passionate about; we then wrote about our experiences.
I hope we can do that again someday soon. In the meantime, what follows was inspired by a job Katie gave me: She asked me to set up a Father’s Day beer-tasting for wine people at her place of work, the Desert Wine Shop on 111. The experience drove home the notion that, in general, zythophiles (beer-lovers) could stand to take a page out of an oenophile’s (wine lover’s) book when it comes to approaching beer.
I can imagine what a possible craft-beer nerd might say here (and by this, I include a previous, less-enlightened version of myself): “Why bring the pretension of the wine world into beer?” First, I’d like to apologize for that previous version of myself. Second, this is not to say that no pretentiousness exists in the beer realm, although, from my experience, it occurs less often. Third, there is definitely more that we can learn from your average wine connoisseur.
There’s a decided difference in the cultures surrounding beer versus wine. If you are interested in wine and go to a winery for a tour, you will likely get hit with a lot of information regarding tasting the wines, and what that entails, along with terms to be used while evaluating the aromas and flavors. Additionally, with wine, you can gain much of the experience from rolling a sip around your palate—and spitting it out.
Tasting beer at a brewery is an entirely different experience. With beer, you lose a whole dimension of the flavor by not swallowing—namely, the varyingly bitter finish in many beers—and most breweries don’t include any sort of evaluation of their beers. This is a bit of an opportunity missed, and it may be due to the general view that beer is a drink for the plebians, while wine is for the patricians.
While preparing for the beer-tasting, I realized something else: Information surrounding the making of a beverage and its history, or the history of the drink’s producer, seems to be more prized by wine drinkers than beer drinkers. I get it; it’s a particularly rough summer, and sometimes just unthinkingly enjoying a kölsch or a pilsner is the order of the day. However, the way I’m built, I’m compelled to learn about what is in my glass, and I think that has heightened my appreciation of drinking. Obviously, I’m not suggesting everyone sets about studying to become a Certified Cicerone—but there is a lot of gold to be found by looking just a little deeper.
Think about the things we do a lot of in our lifetimes, and how little attention we often pay to those things, such as eating, drinking or sleeping. I haven’t been as successful with lucid dreaming, but when it comes to eating and drinking, I have cultivated more mindfulness, and it has resulted in a deepening of my enjoyment and a sharpening of my ability to detect different aromas and flavors (both good and bad). When I can learn more about something I’m interested in, I’m at my happiest.
Researching where a particular beer style comes from, or referencing the Beer Judge Certification Program’s information on a subject, might be as helpful to you as it has been to me. Some style histories can be downright dramatic and/or ridiculous. You might also find that what’s in your glass doesn’t jibe with what you’re reading—and that knowledge may lead you to seek out a more faithful example of a style. Having that knowledge in your arsenal is well worth it, because ultimately, you want to have more experiences you can enjoy … right?
In this vein, there’s an upcoming local opportunity to do some learning: The Ace Hotel and Swim Club will be bringing back its Craft Beer Weekend on Aug. 7 and 8, and if past years are any indication, it will be worth enduring a little August heat (with the help of air conditioning and a pool, of course) to get your fully vaccinated self out there, to enjoy beers from some great (mostly) Southern California breweries. One example: Sour Cellars out of Rancho Cucamonga, which had a world-class lambic-style ale last time the event was held. Mumford Brewing and El Segundo Brewing, both out of L.A., are also worth checking out.
I’ll miss the Craft Beer Weekend, because I’ll be out of town then, but feel free to let me know what beers blew you away. Please eat, drink and be sweaty in my stead—and take a cue from those wine people by learning more about the beers that you enjoy, so you can enjoy them even more.