Historical roots of beer vs wine snobbery? A Spanish perspective

Our amigo Chela has posted an interesting entry on the “Compañía Asturiana de Amigos de la Cerveza” blog about the supposed battle between wine and beer. He suggests that in “wine countries”, wine has always been democratic in its appeal to high and low society alike. In traditional beer-drinking countries, on the other hand, we’ve developed a bit of an inferiority complex towards wine over the ages. And from this has recently emerged the trend for trying to make beer “the new wine”, and leading in some cases to a “Manichean battle” between beer and wine, or at least lots of words being written on why beer is superior to wine.

This can be seen from googling “beer is the new wine”, and is a topic that recurs on American beer blogs in particular. Appellation beer, for example, have a whole series of posts about beer and wine, making “beer is not the new wine” one of their rules. Amen to that. There are enough bloody know-it-alls as it is, without making beer into some rarified “interest”. That said, it would be nice if it had a bit more respect, i.e. articles in the weekend papers, the odd nice beer in a restaurant, that kind of thing.

Back to Chela’s post. There were many interesting comments in response about people’s preferences, whether one really was better, and trends in shopping for wine. But what really interested me were the historical reasons put forward for the cultural superiority of wine. Obviously, in the UK, it’s always been a status symbol, as only the rich could afford it, but why should it be considered a superior drink in countries where it’s common, cheap and easy to produce, like Spain? Galguera suggested it has its roots in the Roman empire — wine being associated with the sophisticated Romans, while the barbaric huns drank beer. Cotoya suggests the religious influence is more important — you don’t get communion beer, after all.

I thought these were interesting points. I’ve had the occasional debate with a wine-lover about how sophisticated beer can be, how it can be just as complex as wine, but I’d never really thought about the origins of our cultural prejudices, or how common they were across Europe, despite the differences in drinking cultures.


Chela, Cotoya and Galguera all contribute to Compañía Asturiana de Amigos de la Cerveza. If you don’t speak Spanish, Google translate does a pretty good job these days, but don’t trust it to translate English into Spanish.


Old Combe Brewery — again

Michael D dropped by and commented on this post about the Old Combe brewery on Long Acre in London. He’s provided some interesting family history and pointed out some useful links:

[My] great great grandfather Frank Wilson worked at Combe, as did his father William Wilson. On the census records they are listed as “practical brewers”.

The family lived in Long Acre and then King Street just round the corner. Very convenient.

There is a bit more on the buildings on the camden website http://mycamden.camden.gov.uk/gdw/T/ListedBuildingDetail?LbNo=10200&xsl=ListedBuildingDetail.xsl.

There is an old picture of the brewery workers in Castle St at http://www.photolondon.org.uk/mol/mol_bool.htm

And an interesting story about the history of Combe’s at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22171 , including a reference to very down to earth Royal Brewhouse Dinner in 1807.

But he also has a question:

If anyone has more detail on Combe’s, would appreciate. There’s not much in The Story of Watneys.


A Day at a London Brewery

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In the early 1840s, George Dodd trolled around all kinds of different British industrial establishments, writing up his adventures for the Penny Magazine.

I bought a copy of Penny Magazine No. 577 today. It includes “A Day at a London Brewery”, the brewery in question being Barclay’s in Southwark.

I was going to scan it, but instead, I’ll link to Google Books, where there’s a perfectly good scan of Days at the Factories, the 1843 anthology containing all of Dodd’s factory memoirs.

Of particular note:

“The distinction between ale and beer is well known by the taste, but it is not easily described in words: ale is of a great specific gravity, lighter coloured, more transparent, and less bitter than porter.”


Picture credit:

Days at the Factories Or, the Manufacturing Industry of Great Britain Described, and Illustrated by Numerous Engravings of Machines and Processes. Series I.- London By George Dodd