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Grapes and Hops

September 28, 2011

It looks like I’ve discovered the trick to writing about wine: make it seem like I’m writing about beer. At the risk of alienating those who claim they don’t care about alcohol-related topics, I’m going to write a second post in a row on the subject.

Really there are two reasons for this:
1) Based on yesterday’s comments, I wanted to clarify a few points
2) I hope to get plenty of traffic from AOA should they promote my Tour de Donut later today

But maybe lots of people will be interested to hear my further explanation of why hops are like grapes. Despite the opposition of a few local beer experts, I’m sticking to my story. Now please remember, the goal here isn’t to proclaim the supriority of wine over beer or vice versa. I’m attempting to find common ground. Because if people find beer to be relatively accessible, and if beer and wine are relatively similar, then people should find wine to be relatively accessible.

Ultimately my goal is to make wine more accessible, and expand people’s palates and minds. Beer is my weapon, and it’s loaded with hops.

Here is what Bill Swallow had to say:

Hops aren’t fermentable. They are bittering and aromatic agents only. Wort (a solution containing sugars from germinated grains) is to beer as grapes are to wine. You ferment the wort to make beer, not the hops.

Beer and wine share a similar process of fermentation, but the byproducts are vastly different given the composition of the ingredients. They use different yeasts, produce different esters and tannin, are accompanied by varying adjuncts (mainly in the case of beer)… Wine is nearly pure grape and yeast with no water added (though sulfites are often added to prevent spoiling in the initial stages before there’s a formidable alcohol base and carbon dioxide layer to keep things sanitary). Beer has four (not two) main ingredients: grains (malts), yeast, hops and water.

Grapes do serve several purposes in wine making. But the grapes chosen for a wine give it its unique and distinctive aromas. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes will yield aromas of cassis. Pinot Noir grapes can produce aromas of rose petals. Red wines pick up bitterness and tannins from the contact of pressed juice with the grape skins.

It sounds like hops do this too. The varietals of hops all have their distinctive aromas. But as of yet, I cannot tell you exactly what they are. But I do know there are noble hops just like there are noble grapes. And like grapes, varietals of hops grow best in certain climates and geographies. Here’s a little blurb in support of that notion from wikipedia:

As with grapes, land where the hops were grown affects the hops’ characteristics. Much as Dortmunder beer may only within the EU be labelled “Dortmunder” if it has been brewed in Dortmund, Noble hops may only officially be considered “Noble” if they were grown in the areas for which the hops varieties were named.

Sure, the wine grapes also have sugar in them. Wine yeast eat sugar and poop alcohol. The sugar in beer comes from the wort (made from germinated grains). Beer yeasts eat that and poop alcohol. Same deal. Does it result in different flavors, yeah. But fundamentally the same thing is going on.

And for the record, wine totally has water added. Okay, that might be a stretch. But wine is mostly water. What do you think is inside those grapes anyway? Sometimes the grapes actually have too much water, and that’s when some of the “free-run juice” is syphoned off. This is the stuff from which White Zinfandel is made. It’s mostly sugar water without much concentrated grape flavor, but the juice that remains in the grapes is more robust and will make wines of greater intensity.

darknova306 had some interesting points to add as well. He was suggesting that consumers expect beer to be consistent whereas wine varies vintage to vintage.

But much like the largest breweries have been pushing for consistency year to year, the large wineries have been doing the same. Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay has a flavor. Year in and year out that flavor remains largely consistent.

Wild inconsistency in wine vintages is really reserved for the world’s best winemakers and much smaller wineries that don’t blend a million gallons of wine together to make a uniform product.

In that way wine and beer are similar too.

P.S. I’ll be happy to tell you off-the-record which brewer presented me with this analogy. But only over beers.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Tonia permalink
    September 28, 2011 9:44 am

    I like the alcohol posts, for the record. Also, although I’m no wine expert, I actually find wine more accessible than beer. But, that could be because I prefer wine and read about it a little more. Beer is all that appealing to me. Of course, that is just a personal preference. Keep up the alcohol posts. :-)

  2. Tonia permalink
    September 28, 2011 9:45 am

    Correction: Beer is not that appealing to me.

  3. Bill Swallow permalink
    September 28, 2011 10:40 am

    In that you get aromas from hops as you do from grapes, agreed. Problem is that it’s far more complicated than that, and we may need to agree to disagree.

    You also get aromas from the malts going into the wort (finding chocolate, coffee or caramel-aroma hops would be legendary). You also have aromas and flavors in both libations coming from the micro-gods of all that is boozy: the yeast. Take the same wort mixture, the same hops on the same boil schedule, and make the same beer but add two different yeasts. You’ll have two distinctly different beers. One may have some wonderful lemon or other fruit aromas, one might be grassier, or funked or what have you.

    But here’s the real kicker: You can vary the amount of hops depending on the style and character of the beer, and dial into specific amounts of varying kinds to get the right character. But with grapes, you generally work with what you have to make wine. In that, wine is far more “pure” a beverage (for lack of a better term).

    I’m not pitting one against the other. Both are wonderful concoctions that I’m glad our long-dead ancestors discovered. I’ll say I have a stronger affinity to beer, and have trained my palate to fully appreciate its intricacies and complexities, particularly in beers where adjuncts are used to further the uniqueness of the beer (pumpkin beer – did you know many don’t contain pumpkin at all, rather just pie spices?).

    But to get back to equating hops and grapes, you can certainly get that basic, but it would be like equating chocolate and carob. And as we all know, there is no equal to chocolate. ;-)

    • Bill Swallow permalink
      September 28, 2011 10:43 am

      …and by no means am I implying that either hops or grapes are the chocolate of the beverage world. LOL!

      For the record, yeah I’m a beer nut, but I also appreciate wine. I just haven’t trained my palate how to fully appreciate it (yet).

    • September 28, 2011 11:12 am

      I think I’ve made the comparison of chocolate to coffee, which I think is a closer fit than carob. No, none of these are the same. But they do have enough similarities to be notable. This isn’t meant to diminish the uniqueness of each product. Rather to encourage people to change the way they think about wine.

      For the record, wine also does not get all of it’s flavor and aroma from grapes. Spice, chocolate, vanilla all come from the wood barrels in which it is sometimes aged. So there again is another similarity.

      What can I say. I’m a uniter not a divider.

      • Bill Swallow permalink
        September 28, 2011 11:35 am

        Ha! Of course you get those flavors in beer from aging barrels as well. In the end, the finished products are equals in my mind (with varying degrees of course, brand to brand, batch to batch). My main area of disagreement was the assertion that hops are like grapes. There’s a degree of scale (or expanse) here that shouldn’t be overlooked; hops are an aroma/flavor additive (and preservative) only, where grapes are the heart and soul of wine (they provide the sugars, fluid, color, flavors and aromas).

  4. September 28, 2011 1:46 pm

    If you’re ever near Cooperstown, please combine beer exploration + ice cream loving and get the Three Philosophers ice cream at Ommegang. It was a high point in my summer.

  5. September 28, 2011 7:17 pm

    If you really want to make wine more accessible to your followers, why not have Fussy Little Tastings? One possibility would be to work with a restaurant and arrange a tasting. Maybe $15 to $20 a head for a variety of wines and some paired appetizers. Another way to go would be at place of your choosing with guests RSVP’d and assigned to bring a specific wine at equitable price points. You could follow it up with a beer tasting. And a Scotch tasting. And a cocktail tasting. The possibilities are limitless. We’ll all be snookered before winter.

  6. September 28, 2011 8:54 pm

    For a moment, I thought you were suggesting that KENDALL JACKSON Chardonnay changed your mind on the varietal, and I was going to be incredibly disappointed. (I have two bottles of that crap sitting at home – a regular and a vintners – that I got as gifts from well-meaning friends, and husband and I have since outed ourselves as too much of wine snobs to get away with passing it off elsewhere.)

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