It seems whenever you turn around these days, there’s some media outlet hyping the mainstream impact of craft beer…
- “Beer sales starting to foam up“
- “Craft beer movement comes to a head“
- “Craft Beer’s Renaissance Continues to Grow“
Among the phrases to consistently draw ire from beer nerds such as myself is the “winification of beer,” more commonly seen as a headline posing the question: “Is beer the new wine?”
No, beer is not wine, nor is it the “new” wine. Most often, these pieces will focus on aesthetic aspects of craft beer purchasing, like the size of a bottle (22-ounce bombers becoming more prominent) or pricing (those large bottles can be compared to the price of a bottle of wine).
These are simply easily-spotted visual cues that could allow consumers to compare and contrast between wine and beer. No, the real “winification of beer” isn’t on the outside of a bottle, it’s on the inside.
NPR ran this piece on its blog “The Salt” last week, pointing out an important movement for craft brewers – going hyper-local for ingredients. Like, backyard local:
Why, you may ask, would anyone want to add strange seeds and mushrooms to their beer? The answer is to create a taste of place. It’s a concept long recognized by and winemakers, who call it terroir, but is mostly absent from the craft of brewing.
For any uninitiated, the idea of terroir is to provide some kind of good – most often food or drink – a sense of place by using locally-sourced ingredients. It’s a very important part of wine production, but why is this important for craft brewers? Well, there are several reasons.
As consumer behavior continues to drift toward the “buy local” movement, it’s no surprise breweries are emphasizing the need or interest in local ingredients. Keep in mind, a majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery. Building connections to a business start at home and that’s easier than ever for beer lovers now.
That bodes well for craft beer, as emphasizing local connections through your product is key from a business standpoint. For example, we know that the proliferation of the term “craft beer” was a very local/regional movement, so by utilizing that connection in both beer production and sales, a craft brewery can benefit.
Here’s the thing: studies have shown that for wine, the idea of terroir doesn’t impact the price from a production standpoint. However, it does influence the psychology of the purchase. Namely, emphasizing terroir is a boon not only for the potential sale of a good, but also for the consumer who feels a connection to buying local.
Of course, sales are not the only reason breweries may emphasize being local. Here in Durham, NC, Fullsteam proudly showcases their commitment to a “Southern Beer Economy,” using numerous in-state ingredients in their beer, including a cream ale made from all local ingredients, except for hops.
Down the road in Hillsborough, Mystery Brewing created a 100 percent local beer of its own. And this isn’t even counting the yet-opened Haw River Farmhouse Ales, which will be using locally-sourced yeast strains, in addition to ingredients. You can even homebrew in an even more local fashion!
All this is to say that the next time you see some piece on TV, in the newspaper or online claiming “beer is the new wine,” it’s not because it comes in a big bottle meant to be shared. It’s because there’s a little more focus on what’s important – the ingredients and how they get into the beer.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac
6 thoughts on “This is the Real ‘Winification’ of Beer”
I may have to disagree with you on this one. Terroir is more than just “local” ingredients. It’s the essence of the place. For wine, it’s how the stun strikes the vines, the soil mineral content, the wind, the angle of the hill. All of these create differences in wine. This is very pronounced in Burgundy where they’re all growing Pinot Noir, but you can have juice that tastes completely different a hill away simply because of the terroir of that hill vs. this hill.
While there is some Terroir in hops, the same strain planted in Yakima will produce hops that taste differently than in Bavaria. But if a brewery made the exact same recipe with local barley and non-local barley, would you notice a difference in anything besides the claim on the label?
The truest expression of Terroir in beer is spontaneously fermented beers. The yeast/bacteria culture is different everywhere and thus creates a fermentation that will produce flavors unique to that area.
A very good point – thanks for catching me! I suppose I was viewing the idea of Terroir in its broad context, but you’ve got me on the wine vs. beer aspects, for sure. Another reason beer isn’t the new wine?
I think the closest intersect comes in the herd mentality of critics. Loud and often obnoxious, both the critic and the product, seems to be leading the charge on what gets talked about as best. California Cabs or Double IPAs for instance. Old world subtle styles are sneered at because they’re not glaring obvious like many new world styles, both in beer and wine. Now you have old world producers making new world styles for a homogenization effect.
People who aren’t very close to the scene are claiming “beer is the new wine” mostly because craft beer people are starting to echo events that were until most recently wine oriented. Store tastings of beer? Ok. Aging beer? Ok now you’re getting a little silly. Beer dinners pairing food with beer? Preposterous!
What these people don’t understand is that beer can and does fit as naturally into these types of things as wine, but beer unfortunately has just gotten a late start at it.
The “terroir” aspect is interesting. Wine comes across it very easily, because grapes (being mostly water) naturally take up the “essence” of the soil around them, and react significantly to things like moisture, temp, etc, allowing a noticeable difference in wine produced in relatively close areas (sometimes from one hill side to another).
I’m not sure there’s that much variation in a small area of barley. But hops may be able to demonstrate it.
I know a local brewery and a distillery that are doing the “buy local” route. I’ll have to ask them the next time I see them how much a possibility of these ingredients giving their products a “local flavor” weighted into their decision to go that route, beyond the “supporting local businesses is what we’re expected to do [and looks good when you’re applying to Town Councils for a business permit]” business model that start up breweries, etc know people want to hear.
For the sake of beer, I imagine the variation mostly comes in established creation of styles. You can grow Cascade on either US coast, but the use will certainly be different of a “West Coast” IPA vs an “East Coast” IPA. Will the taste of the ingredient be noticeable? Probably not. But perhaps the idea is just as important.
I suppose that’s part of the reason why I point out the idea of business practice, consumer interest and marketing. When it comes to outside perception (beer is the new wine!) intersecting with industry patterns (create/buy local!) I suppose what comes out to me is what I’ve written about. Or, at least in my head.
Reblogged this on Inky Beer.