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.

Notes

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.

Boak

15 thoughts on “Historical roots of beer vs wine snobbery? A Spanish perspective”

  1. I real­ly don´t give a damn about the Wine Vs Beer thing. I´ve come to the con­clus­sion that the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple don´t have a palate and can´t be relied on dis­cern­ing good from bad.

    Even in a “wine coun­try” as mine, you will find peo­ple spend­ing loads of mon­ey on “good wine” and then they wont spend the extra buck to go for some­thing more than a Quilmes, Heineken or Stel­la. It´s not strange to hear from them that decent beer has “strong fla­vor” while they swill their pale lager… wtf??

    Sad­ly, in the end it seems to be noth­ing more than a trend thing.

    The very reduced group of “wine peo­ple” on which palate I know I can count on, have been more than recep­tive after drink­ing “good beer” for their first time and are more than eager to drink an occa­sion­al pint of stout, pale ale or even IPA. In fact, most of them com­plain of not being able to palate the “indus­tri­al stuff” any­more.

  2. In the post I tried to empha­sise the cohab­i­ta­tion of both drinks-and their result­ing cul­tures, with­out forc­ing that per­ma­nent strug­gle a num­ber of crit­ics espe­cial­ly from some USA beer and wine cir­cles are mak­ing

    I also tried to put the stress on the fol­low­ing points:

    There’s no room for that “manichean” bat­tle because each drink has its
    moment , its space and both can, from my perspective,live togeth­er.

    On Gas­tron­o­my There‘s a place for beer at the table because its gas­tro­nom­ic posi­bil­i­ties are end­less when pair­ing food. What we need is a kind of “beer aware­ness” from the pro­fes­sion­als to final­ly intro­duce it in their menus.

    Wine is in many coun­tries over val­ued, it is too much relat­ed to class and high liv­ing stan­dars. There’s a pop­u­lar side of good wine that some eco­nom­ic sec­tor delib­er­ate­ly avoids because wine exclu­sive­ness is more profitable.The prob­lem is that in gen­er­al that fact derives into snob­bery. In my opin­ion, both wine and beer snob­bery have to be avoid­ed in order to appre­ci­ate and enjoy each drink at their best. Expre­sions such as “beer is the new wine” or com­par­isons between both drinks are use­less and unef­fec­tive. “knowl­edge makes us free” and through it we can fight things as snob­bery itself, abu­sive prices, trends and bad experiences.That knowl­edge is use­ful for a beer cul­ture to get rid of that so-called infe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex towards wine and for a wine cul­ture to appre­ci­ate the great and rich world that lies behind a good beer.

    Beer can express a lot by itself with­out any com­par­i­son pos­si­ble. And so does wine. Under­stand­ing their dif­fer­ences and respect­ing per­son­al tastes and elec­tions is the best way of giv­ing each drink its own space.

    Haya Salud

    P.S- Thanks a lot for the link and kind ref­er­ences, amigos.Glad you enjoy the post!!!

  3. Chela – of course I didn’t do jus­tice to your orig­i­nal post and the debate that fol­lowed. I also think the two can get along just fine.

    But I was inter­est­ed in explor­ing why we’ve got these stereo­types in the first place.

    Cheers for post­ing!

  4. Boak,
    The rea­son is sim­ple. In non wine coun­tries, the drink was always imort­ed, which made it expen­sive and thus, only avail­able to the elites. They are the ones who cre­at­ed a wine cul­ture in Britain and the USA. Wine then, became asso­ci­at­ed with them and sofisti­ca­tion while beer with the mass­es.
    You can still see that in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Joe Six­pack (the real Amer­i­can) vs. Chardon­nay drinkers (Euro­pean-like snobs).

  5. Yes, but why the stereo­type in wine drink­ing coun­tries as well? I know that wine is “more demo­c­ra­t­ic” in Spain, i.e. every­one drinks it, regard­less of class, but it is still seen as a “bet­ter” drink than beer. Unless I just missed all those posh restau­rants with beer menus?

  6. Very inter­est­ing point about the his­to­ry of this. I’d add that the reli­gious fac­tor grew from that same Roman world­view: Chris­tian­i­ty owes its exis­tence to the cul­ture of Roman Empire, after all.

    I hypoth­e­sise that if the Euro­pean wine-pro­duc­ing coun­tries which have a cul­ture of “wine snob­bery” also had a par­al­lel beer indus­try which pro­duced beer as pop­u­lar and as var­ied in qual­i­ty and price as their wine, they would have a par­al­lel beer snob cul­ture too. But they don’t pro­duce beer like this, gen­er­al­ly. In most of them good beer is of nov­el­ty inter­est or doesn’t exist.

  7. As it is Known, vine­yards and wine were in Rome much before Chris­tian­i­ty reached its sta­tus as reli­gion of the Empire and they were spread almost all over Europe as a side effect of The Con­quest.

    The real fact is that wine snob­bery is a minor­i­ty in the wine Euro­pean coun­tries menawhile it is a prop­er “move­ment” in non pro­duc­er Euro­pean ones and espe­cial­ly in the USA.

  8. Wine snob­bery has spread to all cor­ners of the world. That is because it is good busi­ness, that is why it exists in wine coun­tries, too. But most­ly it is helped by the “mys­tique” that wine has and beer prob­a­bly nev­er will.
    As I said in CAAC blog, the aver­age con­sumer will asso­ciate wine with con­cepts like vin­tage, vari­etals, ter­roirs, etc, while beer will be asso­ci­at­ed with a brand, even in beer coun­tries like the Czech Repub­lic.
    These things have been abused by the mar­ket­ing peo­ple and have had a bad effect on both beer and wine.
    The worst thing is that in the Czech Rep, and I believe in Ger­many and Aus­tria as well (all coun­tries with a rel­a­tive­ly imor­tant wine indus­try) when you go to a posh restau­rant, you will be offered a list of hun­dreds of wines from all over the plan­et, but you will have only one or two choic­es of mass pro­duced beer.
    And as for beer snob­bery, it already exists, to a less­er degree than the wine one. Just look around reviews in beer­ad­vo­cate or rate­beer to see it at work.

  9. If you want to be his­tor­i­cal… the US was a Whiskey(portability) and Cider coun­try until Ger­man Immi­gra­tion reached crit­i­cal mass in the late 19th cen­tu­ry. Then pro­hi­bi­tion put dis­tilled spir­its back in the pri­ma­ry place again. Post pro­hi­bi­tion wine had a very bad rep­u­ta­tion until the 1970’s-80’s (hence the term Wino for an alco­holic bum) when the wine mar­keters over­came the for­ti­fied wine stig­ma and Cal­i­for­nia wine made giant leaps. This ran in par­al­lel with the crit­i­cal mass of ris­ing afflu­ence and Amer­i­cans trav­el­ling abroad and dis­cov­er­ing the food and wine cul­ture of Europe. Mean­while a sim­i­lar thing was hap­pen­ing to beer, as Amer­i­cans who trav­elled abroad expe­ri­enced bet­ter beer and began to demand same at home. They either start­ed import com­pa­nies or micro­brew­eries which cribbed off Europe. It’s a very new phe­nom­e­non.

  10. Some very inter­est­ing com­ments here, thanks! It hadn’t occured to me about the ori­gins of “wino”.

    Bel­gium seems to be the one beer-pro­duc­ing coun­try where they have real respect and inter­est in it. In Ger­many and the Czech repub­lic, peo­ple will proud­ly tell you they have the best beer in the world, but don’t seem that inter­est­ed in try­ing dif­fer­ent types – cer­tain­ly in Ger­many they look at you quite strange­ly if you want to try a dif­fer­ent drink on the next round. In Bel­gium, there seems to be more respect and inter­est for the vari­ety, and you get it in a lot more restau­rants.

    Or is that just a sim­plis­tic and unin­formed gen­er­al­i­sa­tion?

  11. Boak,
    I think you are right about Czech Rep. and Ger­many. At most pubs you will find only one or two beers, usu­al­ly from the same brewery/group. But at least here in Prague, things are slow­ly start­ing to change, Pivo­varsky Klub has been a mas­sive suc­cess and oth­er pubs with rotat­ing beers, or a wider offer have start­ed to copy the mod­el, sort of, and doing quite well at that.
    bren­dan has a point, but is for­get­ting that Claret and Cham­pagne were already drunk at fan­cy din­ners of the Amer­i­can High Soci­ety at least as ear­ly as the first half of the 19th cen­tu­ry.
    The wine that the winos drank I’m sure was no dif­fer­ent to the tetra­pack wines favoured by the winos of today. These wines are com­plete­ly ignored by wine snobs, as if it was some­thing else, or some­thing that didn’t exist.

  12. Although wine snob­bery has spread to every cor­ner peo­ple in Euro­pean wine cul­ture coun­tries( and by them I mean, Portugal,Spain, France and Italy) have great chances of avoid­ing it and mak­ing a, let’s call it, nor­mal approach to the wine they like because is some­thing attached to our cul­tur­al ori­gin. Of course you also find bad wine, posh wine, snob wine but we have to under­line that there mere excep­tions. Max raised (on CAAC) a real inter­est­ing point by men­tion­ing that there are mar­ket­ing move­ments tak­ing ada­van­tage out of this snob­bery which force peo­ple to buy some­thing which qual­i­ty doesn’t worth the price they’ve giv­en it.

    Sim­i­lar cas­es in beer is some­thing that peo­ple from Euro­pean Beer cul­ture coun­tries should try to avoid in all cas­es.
    As we said before we need edu­ca­tion and instinct togeth­er in order to enjoy our favourite drink pay­ing not atten­tion at all the snob move­ments, whether they are prod­uct of a trend or an eco­nom­ic inter­est .

  13. In beer coun­tries like Czech or Ger­many I don’t see beer snob­bery as a threat. In these coun­tries the con­sumer is used to good qual­i­ty, yet cheap beers. Iron­i­cal­ly, it is a dis­ad­van­tage for those who want to brew some­thing very spe­cial, aimed at a gourmet mar­ket.

  14. Those mar­ket­ing gim­micks can hap­pen only thanks to those things that give wine its mys­tique. Mean­ing that if a wine has been made in bor­deaux with grapes from local vine­yards har­vest­ed in 2006, it’s going to be a Bor­deaux 2006, and there is no argu­ing that. Whether the end result is a good wine or not, that’s anoth­er thing.
    A sim­i­lar thing hap­pens with those rub­bish Ger­man house brands sold at dis­count super­mar­kets.

  15. That’s the point, the cul­tur­al fea­ture allow­ing peo­ple to be used to good qual­i­ty with­out pay­ing an unfair price. That’s the same it hap­pens in Por­tu­gal, Spain or Italy regard­ing to wine…And for the same rea­son wine snob­bery is some­thing we just don’t care about.

    I think that t he mar­ket­ing we are refer­ring to is also affect­ing beer in some way. Bel­gian beer is high­ly con­sid­ered by a great amount of beer lovers and a lot of oth­er con­sum­mers not spe­cialised in beer. Lots of peo­ple tend to think that a beer is good by the mere fact of being Bel­gian, in the same way oth­ers do with the Bor­deaux 2006 you men­tion.

    P.S-BTWPeople who only see Bour­deaux 2006 on the label is what I’d call wine snobs- or even a worse name I won’t say in pub­lic hehe­he

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