Wine or Beer: The Eternal Question
Eric Asimov's recent blog post on drinking beer with "wine people" reminded me of my first night on the floor as a sommelier at Babbo. Any time someone wanted a bottle from the cellar, I had to run down a flight of stairs, make sure not to bump into anyone running food, squeeze my way through the people crowding the maître d' (always brandishing a sweet, comforting smile even though I was freaking out on the inside), run down another flight of stairs, and search for the bottle in the enormous space. Then I would repeat the whole process on the way up. I broke a sweat in my first 30 minutes on the job, and this went on for the next seven hours.
At the end of the night, I pulled up to the bar to get my manager's drink, and Ken, the veteran bartender, asked this sage question: "So do you want a bionda [a light beer from the Chelsea Brewing Company] or a bruna [a darker beer from the same place]?"
"How did you know I wanted beer?" I asked naively.
"You're a wine guy. Wine guys always want beer at the end of the night," he responded so matter-of-factly.
And it was true. After tasting 60 or 70 bottles of wine and running throughout the restaurant barely dodging catastrophe all night, nothing sounded quite so refreshing as a beer.
Although wine consumption in the U.S. is on the rise while beer sales remain stagnant, according to this fascinating post from Slate, beer still represents value and often hits the spot when certain wines just won't do (a rare case, but it does happen!). And many of those vintage-dated beers that Asimov waxed about can be as complex and unique as the finest wines, giving people in the wine industry and enthusiasts alike something to brew over.
But it seems that beer professionals also enjoy wine.
I was recently at the opening of Vestry Wines with Garret Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, and he told me that at the last brewer's convention he attended a question was raised to the brewers: "Who in the room has spent more than $50 on a bottle of wine in the past year?" Almost everyone's hands flew up.
About the author: Joe Campanale is a sommelier at New York City's Babbo and is the food and wine editor at Debonair Magazine. Joe is a Certified Wine Educator, Certified Sommelier, and is pursuing his master's degree in Food Studies at New York University.