This feature couldn’t have been written 25 years ago. The idea that beer should be taken seriously as a partner for fine food—that beer might be wine’s peer when we search for a compatible beverage for the table—would have provoked dismissive chuckles from wine aficionados, and it wouldn’t have occurred to beer people at all.
In reality, the two beverages have more in common than either beer drinkers or wine lovers care to admit.
Perception was reality. Wine went with fine cuisine—usually French. Beer went with hot dogs. End of story.
We’re still fighting those images: Beer is down-to-earth, the accessible drink of the common man. Wine is perceived as elite, a social yardstick for measuring success. Think Homer Simpson versus Frazier Crane.
But the facts are these: wine in the United States is extending itself into more casual settings, similar to the place it holds in European wine cultures. And beer, thanks to the craft beer movement and the greater availability of fine traditional imported brands, is reaching up—in culinary terms, flavor diversity and presentation.
What happens when these two venerable beverages meet today in the same venues, across the same table? Well, there’s some honest competition, and a little friction that wasn’t there before. And, hopefully, a recognition that the two beverages have more in common than either beer drinkers or wine lovers have cared to admit.
When it comes to choosing the right beverage for a fine meal, the choices are much wider than they were 25 years ago, and they include both beer and wine options. Both beverages have their passionate advocates—as you’ll read here—but there is also an expanding middle ground. Increasingly, restaurants that take their food and wine seriously can—should—be expected to take their beer offerings seriously, too, and that means richer selections and choices for you.
Welcome to the (cordial) beer-wine spat. People who are knowledgeable about both beverages are now arguing about flavor, complexity and complementarity. If you learn from them, you have the chance to make selections that will take your next fine meal to special heights.