The Winemaker’s Take on American Craft Beer

By Ginger Johnson

Craft beer and fine wine. Making fermented beverages generates a powerful thirst. While you may know brewers love to drink the fruits of their labors, there are many winemakers who also find craft beer to be their end-of-day beverage of choice.

walkermug2“The wine guys like balanced beers,” says David Walker, of Firestone Walker Brewing Company and also part of a winemaking family. Balanced is a term used to describe a beer that means “the blending of all of a beer’s properties—bitterness, acidity, esteriness, hoppiness, etc.” There is no one or two overwhelming qualities that hog the taste buds.

“It sounds a little hackneyed, but they don’t like flavors being over stated,” says Walker, who lives on a vineyard. “Winemakers love great beer, they drink a lot of it and they don’t drink crap. Winemakers have been raiding our brewery since we opened it.”

One might opine that balanced fermented beverages would be a great choice for any table. And with the sheer diversity of beers available right now, it’s no surprise that makers of the vino also fully enjoy and partake in craft beer.

Winemaker Kara Olmo shares that there is absolutely a correlation between beer and wine. “You’re taking an agricultural product from a given region, fermenting it and discovering all the unique characters that develop,” says Olmo of winequoteWooldridge Creek Winery.

Eric Weisinger, a winemaker and international wine consultant out of Southern Oregon, would echo the connection of beer to wine. Craft beer is an “artisan product, something that I am coming to appreciate more.” He tells us his palate for beer has improved as well.

Walker adds, “brewers all want sort of exotic flavors…wine guys want to harmonize the flavors; subtlety is what they want.” So it’s a great thing for beer enthusiasts everywhere that there are thousands of choices available for anyone in just about any market.

The winemakers who spoke up also said they are for sure into flavor, something both beer and wine has to offer. You don’t have to only like one or the other, nor should you limit yourself. Imagine if you were a vegetarian and only ate carrots? Limiting yourself means cutting off the enormous variety and constantly changing beer choices filled with flavors, from delicate and subtle to robust and eye-poppingly bold.

Olmo tells us she’s interested in the flavor of craft beers, and particularly the vast flavors yeast can impart.

“Beer makers have so many add-on capabilities in recipes. Their tool box is so large compared to wine and they get immediate gratification,” says Olmo.

All three of these wine and beer drinkers agree: they will try any kind of fermented beverage. Weisinger has maybe tried the most unusual—fermented mare’s milk in Asia. Suffice it to say it won’t replace his beer or his wine!

wine2Weisinger is currently working in Southern Oregon, has worked in Australia, New Zealand, and California and lived in Europe twice. His beer favorites are generally from the Northwest and he doesn’t have any one producer or preference adding, “there are simply too many to love just one.”

Since both beer and wine people usually also enjoy food with their beverage, it’s no surprise that they find beer is great to pair with foods. A self-described beer beginner, Olmo points out that wine is much more acidic than beer which can make it trickier to pair and more limited. Beer has a “much rounder profile” she says, which lends beer to a much broader range of food flavors to match.

The Pacific Northwest has both thriving craft beer and wine cultures. And maybe because of that, Olmo’s a beer explorer and will be the first one to buy something she’s not tried by an Oregon brewery. After Oregon choices, she’ll head into Northern California craft beers. Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice is a favorite pick as is the venerable Anchor Steam. Anchor Steam in particular was one of the very first micros she had and equates positive memories with the beer. She’s already looking forward to all the spicy and full flavors of Oktoberfest releases.

So is there a clear difference of beer to wine, or vice versa? “Yes,” Weisinger tells us without hesitation. “There are differences in process and ingredients, yet they share similar procedures during production. It’s the same in the sense that when you start with high quality grapes you get high quality wine,” just like in making beer. He adds, “And they’re both made with passion.”


Ginger Johnson

Ginger Johnson is a loud laugher, cross drinker and energetic beer enthusiast. She started Women Enjoying Beer to educate and share the great experience of beer with women everywhere. She works with consumers directly to find out what women want from their beer and beer businesses to market craft beer to women. She believes in education and being a geek and not a snob. She can be reached at Ginger@WomenEnjoyingBeer.com, via Twitter @womenenjoybeer and on Facebook at Women Enjoying Beer.