Unfortunately the column is in Dutch, but it was an exemplary piece that caught my eye. Wine expert Magda van der Rijst was invited to attend Oedipus International Beer Festival and saw all her preconceptions confirmed. Poor woman – having read the column one cannot see her having had any fun – ever, which is a shame, because it’s clear she stops herself from actually enjoying things.
Wine people are biased about beer (my prejudice), like Cuno van ‘t Hoff, a leading wine writer. He actually has ‘because beer makes you burp’ written on his business card: funny how he seeks a reason to write about wine in beer, but that’s not today’s issue. Actually, Ciuno is a wine lover who treats beer openly, and even sometimes enjoys it. Yet most wine people tend to take themselves very seriously and they seldom laugh – let alone about themselves. Anyway, our Magda was invited to OIBF by a friend who works in beer. The column’s third sentence (column is seen below) immediately shows where the rest will go to: ‘I do like an occasional beer (mistake 1) and so I joined him in the festival’. Well, yeah – what can you possibly say if this is where you are coming from? In court they’ll protect you from prejudice but without any explanation on the mistake Magda is judge, jury and executioner in one. Bring on the blood, baby!
Much to her surprise the festival glass is the exact same one used in wine tastings (which happens to be an excellent glass to taste beer in, too) and she’s amazed beer people hold their glasses by the stem and possess the ability to endlessly and nerdishly twang about beer. Twanging about malts, hops, spices and lagering on wood or steel – they’re almost wine people. Or, as Magda suggests between the lines, they’re almost human.
But here’s where the similarities between a wine and a beer tasting end for Magda. Take, for example, those partaking here: they have beards (the men, she points out) and wear large glasses (mainly the man), are generally younger they taste more socially (less ‘solitary’). Total shock is found in the fact beer tasters actually swallow a bit of the beer. Magda, not used to this, got a glass and sniffed it, looked at it, sucked in some air (which she describes as her mistake number two, without explanation) and then hopelessly started a search for a spittoon. When she was about to drown she swallowed, in rage.
A brewer pointed out swallowing allows to fully enjoy and analyze the flavors and palate. Magda believes this is utter nonsense. In her world, only newbies swallow. ‘It takes practice to absorb what nose and mouth detect, without swallowing. Only after regular tastings can one build a database with taste references. Swallowing means letting alcohol in, resulting in less accurate tasting and numbing the receptors’, Magda states.
Now there’s utter nonsense, and I’ll leave her observations untouched. When waltzing wine or beer in the mouth, a lot of alcohol is already absorbed by the tongue and cheeks – and the numbing of receptors is not less because you do not swallow. And being used to wine flavors, Magda remains blissfully unaware of one of beers’ biggest flavor components: hops. These hops really only reveal their full glory in the very back of the throat – beyond the ‘point of no return’. Beer tasting requires swallowing if ones wants to do it well.
Magda disagrees with the above and has decided to stay with wine: ‘With wine, I at least do not have to drink when I taste’. I do not believe we have to be overly sad with Magda turning her back firmly on beer. I think it is for the best for all concerned, mainly the beer drinkers, who do drink when they taste and taste when they drink. Sadly I believe Magda doesn’t do that either, based on her comments which are as sour as many a wine. But hey, you don’t drink that, you only taste it.