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In defense of beer 

A wine geek raises her glass to the suds

Last week, I received an e-mail hammering me for my beer diss in a recent column ("Taylor's Top 10," April 2). Nate Johnson from Atlanta wrote:

"I agree that beer is sometimes better, but you have reduced those times to little more than frat parties and car races. Beer has a tremendous depth and breadth that deserves a lot more respect than you gave it. From the subtlety of the Belgians to the bravado and arrogance of the American microbrews, beer has a much broader range than Natural Light for the college crowd and Michelob Ultra for the post lawn-mowing chill out. ... I know it wasn't a beer column, but it would be like someone else discussing wine and limiting the discussion to Boone's Farm, boxed wine, and wine coolers -- unfair and incomplete."

Ouch! Makes me sound like Fox News. Although my fractious comments were meant tongue-in-cheek, Nate has a point (except about degrading boxed wines -- not all of them suck). I considered all the occasions I crave beer and realized my reckless rant is unfounded. Although possibly seen as perfidy, I need to put my mouth where, um, my mouth is. Beer geeks vehemently defend their beverage as a great -- if not the best -- food-pairing grog. And you know what? They're right -- at least sometimes. I've experienced a dark chocolate torte softly French-kissing a sweet, cream stout and an India Pale Ale snuggling up with a smoked duck breast. But because I'm a wine geek, I protect my treasured turf. Beer has triumphed in the United States since its founders planted wheat, hops and barley seeds in their newly stolen soil. It's cheaper and faster to brew, and the masses develop a taste for it directly after breast milk (Coke makes the list, too). Wine is the underdog, folks. And rooting for the underdog is another inveterate American pastime.

I admit that wine isn't particularly thirst-quenching. I'm not going to reach for a pint of pinot grigio after a summer run. Nor will I reach for a beer due to my obsessive health-nut-ness, but the lack of sugar in a crisp pilsner would make a refreshingly better choice. Pilsner's a light, malt-y and well-hopped lager, named after the town of Plzen in the Czech Republic. Budweiser and Coors are examples of American pilsners -- although most beer geeks would perish of thirst before deigning to down one of these imposters. In its pure form, versatile pilsner pairs with rich, buttery Fettuccine Alfredo just as well as a full-bodied California chardonnay. The choice lies with your mood.

I've slurped many a soft 'n' fruity wheat beer (or hefeweizen) with barbecued anything -- the sweet and spicier the better. The lack of bitter hops makes them more soothing after a spice assault. Haughty wine purists will swear that spicy foods are better calmed with wines like sweeter riesling and gewürztraminer, but "wheat beer" is easier to pronounce, don't you think? Interesting premise: German wheat beats out German grapes. And weirdly enough, German brats are better with brown ales like England's Newcastle. Although probably lambasted by beer geeks as "common," I'm not too proud to stock it in my fridge.

And on a sweeter ending note, I recently tapped a Lindeman's Cherry Lambic, enjoying its tart, flirty fruitiness at a local brewpub. It might be a chick beer since it's frothy, sweet and pink, but I have no masculinity to defend. Wine still rules, but there remains a place for beer in this girl's world.

Recommended Wine

Castoro Cellars 2005 Zinfandel Paso Robles (California) Black and blueberry all over with approachable, elegant tannins. Cherry vanilla mixed with earthy allspice. A big wine with big fruit, so get ready for a fantastic ride. Sw = 2. $16. .

Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. (star) rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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