Beer vs. Wine Fridays

Is it a moot debate?

A recent informal poll of Cambridge’s US marketing department shows a dead heat, with many baffled by the question right off the bat. Someone sneaks up behind your desk and says “Wine or beer, GO!” What would you say?

Most were taken aback, with baffled responses like “Well, my favorite beer is…” or “In the wintertime, I drink red wine but…” Does this point to the enlightenment of publishing-types? That we have the capacity to split our discriminating palates? What do you think? Is Charles Bamforth’s question a moot one?

Dr. Bamforth is zipping around and is unable to post today, though he did send along a couple fun facts for us.

Did you know?

The active ingredient that counters the blocking of the arteries is alcohol, so don’t go declaring wine as the sole ‘heart-healthy’ beverage.

One of the wines selected by experts in blind tasting of 2,300 products for the International Eastern Wine Competition (Corning NY) was Charles Shaw 2002 California Shiraz, price $1.99. The product is colloquially known as Two Buck Chuck.


Beer vs. Wine Fridays

brewing.jpgIt’s Friday. Feeling healthy? I’m not qualified to give any dietary advice but… if you’ve been drinking wine as a healthy alternative to beer, perhaps you should reconsider. Then again, who am I to talk? That picture to the left was taken in my kitchen after a night of heavy fermentation. The result was a very tasty beer. It should be no surprise that I’ve enjoyed Beer vs. Wine Fridays. Perhaps we should let an expert take over from here — someone with a real knowledge of brewing chemistry.

Charles Bamforth on Beer and Health

Alcohol is the key ingredient for countering the risk of your arteries blocking up. Guess what? It matters not one jot whether it comes from wine or beer. You might just dwell on the fact, however, that the beer contains the more vitamins, soluble fiber and silicon, which counters osteoporosis. In fact beer is second only to bananas as a source of silicon. And much more pleasurable.

Some studies (excerpted from Grape vs. Grain)

Dr. Cynthia Baum-Baicker, a clinical psychologist within the University of Pennsylvania Health system, has reviewed the literature on the positive psychological benefits of moderate alcohol consumption and concludes that there is reduced stress in such consumers. There is an increase in happiness, euphoria, conviviality, and pleasant and carefree feelings but a decrease in tension, depression, and self-consciousness. More so, low doses of alcohol improve certain types of cognitive performance, such as problem-solving and short-term memory. By contrast, heavy drinkers and abstainers had higher rates of clinical depression than did regular moderate drinkers. Guallar-Castillon and colleagues at a Madrid university described a study showing that people drinking wine or beer believed themselves to be healthier; in fact, the higher the consumption the better people felt they were! Perhaps this is the reason why studies in different regions variously flag up wine or beer as the more beneficial.

Continue reading

Beer vs. Wine Fridays

cwbsmall.jpgCharles Bamforth, brewing scientist extraordinaire, has a little lesson in diversity. Wines, after all, have an enormous range of flavors packed in just one fruit. You can have smoke, berry, licorice, pear, leather, grass, cat-pee (Chenin blanc, people, look it up). But as far as beer goes, Charles thinks it has more to offer. Read on!

Wine goes with some foods, beer matches many more and not just hotdogs and pizza: think all types of Asian, Mexican ….British (hey, remember I am English). Tell me, too, which of these two excellent alcoholic beverages is more thirst-quenching and, well, less pretentious and more fun?

And what diversity in the world of beer!

Everything from colorless to black, from 0% to 26% alcohol and with a rich diversity of flavors from mainstream malt and hop notes, to everything from tomatoes (Michelada) to chilies; from pumpkins to chocolate; from lime to ginseng. So much more than red, white and pink.

How sad, though, that myths abound about the beer belly [Also, see here].  The reality is that beer is no different to any other food: if you take in more calories from it than you burn off, you will get fat. It’s the alcohol that is the main source of calories in any alcoholic beverage, so the calorie count in a glass of wine is pretty much the same as that in a light beer and many regular beers aren’t much higher.


Did you know?

Beer and bananas are the two richest sources of silica in the diet, so beer helps counter osteoporosis.


Wine and beer have enjoyed medicinal merit for thousands of years. An ancient Egyptian recipe for epilepsy was wine infused with the testicles of a donkey.


Beer vs. Wine Fridays

cwbsmall.jpgCharles Bamforth is back with more on beer and wine from his perspective as a brewing scientist in the middle of wine country. Check him out every Friday right here.

Want to know more about Bamforth’s illustrious history with beer? Check out Scientific American’s Science Talk interview from May 2007.


In case there is any doubt, I am a beer man. I have been in the business for thirty years and it has been good to me. Hey, I like wine. There may even be a bottle or two of it somewhere around the house. And the winemaker’s art is a proud one, with great charm and devotion, performed in some pretty amazing wineries of considerable aesthetic appeal. But I prefer beer, because it suits far more drinking occasions, it is more consistently excellent (read: few surprises, or shocks – what is this concept of vintage?) and, despite what you may be led to believe in the popular press, it is at least as good for you as is wine, probably better.

Brewing is mankind’s oldest profession (well, perhaps the second oldest). It has been brewed for 8,000 years. In the last two hundred of those, tremendous strides have been made in understanding the science that underpins the production of beer, such that now brewers can overcome the seasonal vagaries of barley and hops to produce brands that are sublimely consistent, glass after glass. And many of them brew 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. In the world of wine it is a whirl of frenzy for a very few weeks, at crush time, and then….well, wait. And drink beer. I am so weary of being told by winemakers: “it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine”.

The reality is that brewing is much more complicated than is the making of wine. The latter has one raw material, the grape. Brewers need to worry about barley (which has to be converted first to malt in a two week process), hops and water. Wine contains about 1,000 different compounds, beer has twice as many. Winemaking is essentially a three step process: crush, ferment, refine. In brewing we have milling, mashing, boiling, clarification, fermentation, conditioning, stabilization, and filtration.


Did you know?

-There are 2,000 different types of molecule in beer, which is probably twice as many as in wine.

-Drinking alcohol in moderation, whether wine or beer, leads to higher scores in IQ tests bamforth-cover.gif

Charles Bamforth is professor of Brewing and Malting and head of the food sciences department at UC Davis. He is the author of Grape vs. Grain (May 1).



Beer vs. Wine Fridays



cwbsmall.jpgGrape vs. Grain author Charles Bamforth weighs in on Fridays with his ideas about the relationship between beer and wine, as well as some little-known facts.

I was recently in a restaurant with a bunch of guys from a well-known North American brewing company. We each ordered their flagship lager and were appalled by what arrived. The beer, of course, was great. No, it was the glasses: rolling around in each of them was an olive. My protest was met with the retort “but this is a poor man’s cocktail”.

Now, being beer folk, we eschewed wine. I am pretty sure, though, that if we had opted for a Pinot Noir or a Chardonnay, the theater would have been entirely different, with much ceremony of presentation and celebration of the label, ritualistic de-corking and pretentious nosing of the bouquet. I suppose I should at least have been grateful that we got glasses and weren’t expected to do what seems to be the norm in many eating houses, namely to swig the beer straight from the bottle. What a curious habit that truly is: when did you last see someone order a delicate little number, say a Mouton Rothschild Chateau, and heave it down their gullet straight from the container?


Did you know?

Wine and beer both contain phenolic antioxidants. It has been shown that one of these in beer (ferulic acid) gets into the body more efficiently from beer than it does from a tomato.

The desire to pee is less when you drink stale beer as opposed to fresh beer.