“The peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the olive and the vine.” — Thucydides (460BC—395BC), Greek historian.
There is a line that runs through Europe above which grapes do not grow. The modern nations of France, Italy, Spain and Greece all lie below this line, while all of the great beer drinking nations such as Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Great Britain lie above it. In the time before the Common Era, the great empires of Greece and Rome dominated Europe, North Africa and parts of the Middle East. They saw the drink of their home land as civilized and associated the drink of their conquered territories as barbarian. It is not hard to imagine that, conversely, these “barbarians” hated the drink of their uninvited and often cruel ruling class almost as much as they hated the conquerors themselves.
This attitude has resonated throughout western history until today. Just recently, beer was banned at the royal wedding because it was deemed an inappropriate drink to be served in the Queen’s presence. Imagine that! A drink that has had an immeasurable impact on Britain’s history is shunned in preference to a drink that has ZERO domestic origins. What gives?
Prohibition, in this country, didn’t help beers reputation much either. The 18th amendment ensured that all legal consumption of beer and wine ceased (except for religious purposes). In the decades after the nation emerged from the “noble experiment,” the quality of domestic beer plummeted. An entire generation had grown up being told that alcohol was wrong. This, of course, didn’t stop them from consuming. It did, however, lower their standards substantially. American were used to drinking anything they could get their hands on. Few of the breweries that survived maintained their pre-prohibition quality. Most began marketing their beer to the lowest common denominator, and trying to make it as cheap as possible. Brewing, as an art, was mostly dead.
While wine suffered the same sort of hit in the US during Prohibition, it’s reputation was able to bounce back, thanks largely to the European wine making scene. Once the Europeans were able to recover from the devastating war, they began exporting wine to the US. Prices were high thanks to the cost of export, and so this ensured that only the wealthy had access to it.
Today, things are changing. Not only are domestic wineries producing world class wine that most Americans can afford, but craft breweries are popping up all over, producing beers with character, and reviving the lost art of brewing. While some might still snobbishly see a glass of Bordeaux as infinitely superior than anything from the beer section of their local specialty shop, most have abandoned this mentality. Everyone has a preference, of course. I imagine most people reading this site prefer beer. As beer drinkers it is important that we not take on the same attitude of superiority as wine drinkers of the past, and instead embrace both drinks for their merits.