Beer for Wine Lovers

Recently, we got into a lively discussion in the office on the virtues of wine versus beer—I’m not much of a beer drinker myself, but there are a few kinds I like. One staffer proposed that our taste in beer tracks to the wine we like, so we decided to go to a pro for arbitration: Greg Engert, the beer director for Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which includes the award-winning, brew-centric Birch & Barley and ChurchKey restaurants in Washington, D.C.. He offered his thoughts on what a novice beer drinker might be interested in, plus specific craft beer recommendations based on wines you already like. Enjoy!

Greg Engbert Beer Expert

Is there a correlation between the tastes people like in wine and beer?

Sure—craft beer offers the same elegance, balance, complexity and nuance as wine, and can even have some of the same aromas, like fruit, spice, cocoa, grass, vanilla, earth and so on.

What’s the biggest hurdle in getting a non-beer-drinker to enjoy a craft beer?

Bitterness is the most polarizing flavor in craft beer, and it’s especially pronounced in hop-driven IPAs, as well as some Stouts and Porters—which tend to be favorites of the beer drinkers trying to convert their friends.

What are the easiest beers for a novice beer drinker to enjoy?

Malty brews, especially those in the Belgian tradition, like Witbier, Saison, and Tripel styles, are good bets. So are crisp ales and lagers, like Kölsch, Vienna Lager and American Wheat Ale. For the hardcore wine drinker, I turn to sour brews like a traditional Lambic, Flemish Red/Brown Ales and Berliner Weisse.

Can you give us some craft beer recommendations for these wine profiles?

If you like… Sauvignon Blanc

Why not try… A clean and crisp German-style Kölsch, like Bluejacket Forbidden Planet. It has aromas of passion fruit, mango, grass and white pepper, with a dry finish and no bitterness.

If you like… Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio

Why not try… A Saison / Farmhouse Ale style beer, like Stillwater Cellar Door. It’s clean, toasty and spiced, with a wheaty, effervescent pop and a tantalizing touch of white sage in the nose.

If you like… Merlot

Why not try… A Belgian Strong Dark Ale, like De Struise Pannepot. This one has a dusting of cocoa, complex spicing (ginger, fresh herbs, anise) and strong notes of raisins, cherries and plums.

If you like… Cabernet Sauvignon

Why not try… A sour brown ale, like New Belgium La Folie. It’s got robust aromas of figs and black currants, hints of chocolate cake and leather, and a finish reminiscent of black cherries.

If you like… Pinot Noir

Why not try… A Belgian style ale, like Allagash Interlude. It boasts notes of strawberry, herbs, black pepper and earthy funk, and is matured in oak barrels to add a touch of drying tannin, vanilla and toast.

Photo credit: Stephanie Breijo, courtesy of Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

Beer for Wine Lovers

When you're walking home from work on a beautiful fall evening and you think, "A delicious cappuccino would make my life complete right now." Then you realize it's 5:00 and you're too old for that shit.

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