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19 May 2005


OK, so in less than three weeks the wife and I are headed to Europe for nearly a month. We’re super excited, as you can imagine. But one thing still eludes my grasp.

I grew up in Tennessee. Tennessee is part of the Bible belt, a peculiar geographical region in which it is a sin to drink alcohol. There are few other places on the planet where this is the case. Apparently God has different rules depending on where you live.

Anyways, so I didn’t start drinking alcohol until I went to college and became a pagan. Consequently, I’ve tasted only one kind of beer. It was apple. And it was putrid.

Mixed drinks are my thing. Wine coolers are OK. Wine is hit and miss. Apparently I favour white wines over red ones and am not particularly fond of dry ones.

Nonetheless, I’m heading to Europe. I’ll be in Italy and Germany. I’ve got three weeks to learn to appreciate warm beer and wine. Somebody help.

Comments on "Advice?"


Blogger chas said ... (5/19/2005 10:19:00 PM) : 

Ok, so stop drinking those wine coolers right now. Whatever you might like about them you can find something much better and varied in the real thing.

With 3 weeks you can at least come to appreciate the scope of what you're interested in, but I'm not sure you'll be able to come to appreciate it. My advice, start with a good survey of the google sites that turn up from a search like "introduction to wine". Or hit the book store or Amazon.

Not all the beers you'll drink are in Europe will be warm either. Everything has a different style, and very often a unique glass from which to drink it. Enjoying the beers from Belgium alone could be your whole trip.

Try a variety - not just the things you've heard of - and by all means, drink as much as possible while you're there! :-)


Anonymous zalm said ... (5/20/2005 07:48:00 PM) : 

Well, I know little to nothing about wine tasting in Europe, since I've never actually been there. But I've done my fair share of tasting in California (and we're going to Sonoma this Sunday with some friends).

If you don't like wine or beer, I'm not sure I can tell you how to learn to like them in three weeks. And there's really no substitute for buying a bunch of each and tasting and comparing. But that's expensive.

Wine: although I'll never discourage a crash course binge in wine, perhaps you might be better served learning a bit about the process of winemaking and particularly about the specialties and types of grapes grown in the regions you plan to visit. That way, you'll have given yourself some background that you might be able to use to process your tasting later. If you can anticipate the difference between a Riesling and a Gewurztraminer, for example, you might be better prepared to notice the difference when you taste them. (And if you already know that you lean towards sweeter whites, rieslings are a pretty good place to start.)

As for beer, you can actually get some pretty decent german beers in the states. Again, I'd do some research to find out what classic breweries might be in the regions you'll be exploring. Then go to a specialty beer/alcohol store and see if they carry beers by any of those breweries. If you can buy single bottles, you might at least get a preview of the range of beers or styles of beers you might care to seek out.

It's a little hard to guess what you'll gravitate towards. But as long as you're willing to be adventurous and willing to try things that you may end up hating, you might learn a lot.

For many people, beer beyond piss-poor American lagers and wine beyond wine coolers or white zinfandel is a bit of a journey. I started out with lighter beers and sweeter wines but I've really been spending more time with darker beers and drier wines lately.

I guess this is just rambling and broadbrush suggestions. If you're looking for something more specific, let me know and I'll see if I can help.

Sounds like a fun trip, though. And as long as your goal is to have fun and not be too serious, then it'll be ok if you don't find a lot that you like.


Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (5/22/2005 05:30:00 PM) : 

Thanks for the ideas. I'll definitely learn everything I can before we leave about wine and beer making. And I'm trying to sample what I can before we take off. I've got some Bavarian Berry Weiss in the fridge right now. And I was told to sample radler (beer with lemonade) as well. Regardless, the fact that I'll be in Europe having tons of new, exciting experiences is what will make it worthwhile. Even if I hate all the beer and wine I drink, I'll be drinking it in Europe with the natives. That's what's going to count in the long run.


Blogger ding said ... (5/23/2005 01:31:00 AM) : 

everything is better when you're on a trip. i know nothing about wine but in paris, i just followed everybody else and it was wonderful to trust someone else's taste. (they don't put enough ice in cocktails, anyway.)

so try everything, eat good food with it (it helps) and have a great time.

and please stop drinking the wine coolers. please. now.


Anonymous Kyle said ... (5/24/2005 06:54:00 PM) : 

To be honest, I think it's necessary to pour (or even force) a couple entire bottles of beer down your throat before you can begin to enjoy it. I didn't like the first few beers I have, but now I'm an alcohol producer (i.e., I homebrew). If at all possible, come to a new beer or wine on its own terms; don't decide immediately whether you like it or not, because that kind of snap judgment will never move you away from the syrupy crud produced in wine coolers and soft drinks (which I won't drink anymore, except craft-brewed root beer) and on to the wonderful subtleties and varieties of non-mass produced wine and beer. Beer and wine are acquired tastes, for the most part, but as such, they are well worth it if you put effort into it. But you have to make sure you get good stuff, which likely won't be hard to do in Europe. If there's one thing I'm thankful about growing up in a teetotaling household, it's that I never learned to drink that rat-piss that is mislabeled "beer" found for sale on every street corner in America (e.g., Busch, Bud, Miller, etc.; basically every American beer that has commercials (except Sam Adams)).

And please try to find beer that isn't completely covered up with fruitiness; yes, some of those beers are very good (I'd recommend a raspberry or cassis lambic myself, but be prepared for a bit of a sour aftertaste), but drinking only fruity beers seems a bit like going to McDonald's in Paris, i.e., wanting to experience something new and different but only on terms that your palate is completely used to. Styles I'd recommend for beginners: Vienna lager/Oktoberfest (like Dos Equis; Ayinger Oktoberfest is one of my all-time favorites), some doppelbocks (try Bell's Consecrator if you can find it (but it's not in season right now)), red ale, brown ale (like Newcastle or Pete's Wicked Ale), hefeweissen (I just recently picked up an Allgauer hefeweissen at a tasting; very, very drinkable, almost goes down like water). Pale ale, and its more hopped up cousin India pale ale (IPA), might be more bitter than you're ready for, and porters and stouts might be too much for now, though they can be incredible. Belgians can be very good but get very weird very quickly (orange peel, coriander, other spices, etc.), so I can't say that I'd recommend them for a beginner. There are some good microbreweries whose beer can be found in Illinois, including Bell's (my favorite) and New Holland from Michigan, Sprecher (also makes good root beer) and New Glarus and Lakefront (WI), Three Floyd's (IN), and Goose Island (Chicago). Also, look for Paulaner and Hacker-Schorr, two prominent German breweries that aren't too difficult to find in the U.S, especially in Chicago suburbs.

I've actually been more into wine than beer lately, but I don't know it as well to make good recommendations. I tend to like dry reds like cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir; once you get past the expectation that fruit-based drinks have to be sweet, these can be quite good, usually without the heaviness that you tend to get with merlot. Sauvignon blanc tends to be a dry but not sour white, usually pretty easy to drink (Lalande is the only foreign winery I can think of right now, and it's reasonably priced). And lately I've been getting into Rieslings too... (if you don't catch the reference in that last line, watch Sideways, and get a glimpse into the world of wine obsession). Don't trust a supermarket to have good wine; try to find a wineshop where the people will talk to you at whatever your knowledge level happens to be (they might be rare; thankfully I live within a mile of just such a place in Urbana, IL, The Corkscrew).

P.S. I hope this doesn't sound condescending. I'm just passionate about good alcohol and want to spread the love wherever I can.


Blogger zalm said ... (6/02/2005 12:56:00 AM) : 

How's the crash course going? You must be getting ready to leave soon.


Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (6/02/2005 08:57:00 PM) : 

Wow, thanks Kyle. That was super helpful. And no, you don't sound condescending at all.

We leave on Wednesday, Zalm. I actually haven't had a lot of time to do much more experimenting. But it's cool. I've got a few things I want to try while I'm there and I'm more than happy to throw myself to the wine and beer gods.

And I promise never to drink wine coolers again.


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