The wine lovers guide to… beer

If you’re a wine lover like me, you probably only drink beer occasionally – for me that usually means the odd Pilsner and fries! And if you read this blog regularly you’ll know that I also love to push my reader’s boundaries by encouraging the exploration of lesser known wine varieties. Considering WA Beer week starts on Saturday (running from Oct 25th – Nov 1st)  I thought I’d take this idea further and extend it to the world of beer. La Vigna stocks an interesting, concise range of specialty beer and I can scratch the surface with my beer knowledge… but that’s about it. I had a bit more to learn so my good friend and client Brian Fitzgerald offered to get me up to speed. Brian is a certified Cicerone, in fact he’s Perth’s only Cicerone. A Cicerone is the beer equivalent of a certified Sommelier, and yes, there are Masters of Beer just the same as a Master of Wine. He is also the current President of the Brewer’s Association of WA and regular judge at the Perth Beer Show – in other words, an excellent source on the real deal about beer.

So what have I learnt and what can I share with you? Let’s start with the honest truth of what many wine lovers, myself included, believe about beer: it’s refreshing and light but bland and tasteless. This is the reason we don’t take beer seriously, dismissing it as a one-dimensional, ho-hum choice compared with the riches of wine. And we wouldn’t be wrong, if the only beer available was lager from the two big brewing companies (naming no names). These companies produce beer that is literally stripped of flavour. They add more sugar (or use rice or corn syrup) to remove flavour, in an attempt to appeal to the widest palate possible. They produce a mass market product in huge volumes and strive for stability, alcohol level and general character over the flavour of the beer. However, there are now alternatives to these big commercial brews and lots of them. So how do they stack up for a wine lover?

It’s no secret that craft beers and micro or boutique breweries have been on the rise in the last few years. These are the beers we are looking for: craft beers come in many different styles and with much more complexity and intensity of flavour. More people are gravitating to craft beers and Brian believes this is because these smaller breweries are catering to a range of different tastes with different styles of beer, similair to the approach of winemakers. Pale Ales are very popular… a crowd pleasing example is Little Creatures Pale Ale, a light and fruity beer version of Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. In particular, IPAs (India Pale Ales) are very fashionable and are full of flavour, richness and fruitiness. American IPAs are even bigger, bolder, richer and more ‘hoppy’, with a higher bitterness. A flavour profile like this is more akin to a Barossa Shiraz, so you can see why these styles might begin to appeal to us wine lovers too. Importers are bringing in more and more craft beers as interest and sales increase, as well as the Swan Valley and Margaret River (and even Northbridge) hosting more boutique breweries every year.  And the local quality is great – the Feral Brewing Company in the Swan Valley won the Australian International Beer Awards trophy for several years. This year its neighbour, Mash Brewing, won the prize for champion small brewer for its IPA and other beers, as well as champion ale. There are now so many quality craft beers to choose from that beer appreciation can be taken to another level – one that even us wine lovers might be able to enjoy.

Let’s deal with a couple of other hesitations about beer. The first one is bloating. The Belgians say that a beer must be digestible and the dry finish of Belgian style beers such as the Hoegaarden gives us a clue about how to achieve this. Bloating is caused by residual sugar from malt so the drier styles (such as many Belgians) create less problems. Another complaint I hear is that beer is only suitable to drink in Summer. Again, just like choosing a wine, the answer is all about the style of beer and there are many that are suitable for cooler weather. On that note, there are certainly meals that scream out for a beer and I’ve mentioned fried food but Indian, Asian, Thai, any spicy meal also needs the cut through that almost only beer can provide. Regardless of spice, just as with wine you are looking for a beer that will provide contrast and taste while complementing your meal. And just like starting with Champagne, you want to move from lighter to heavier beers throughout an evening, increasing the intensity of taste as you progress.

In a somewhat parallel issue to wine lovers and their corks versus screw-tops argument, I also found out something fascinating about beer in cans versus bottles. Whereas most people might consider cans ‘cheap’ and bottles preferable, cans are actually a much better vessel for beer because they are completely sealed from air and light. It may be prejudice or just ease of drinking keeping bottles popular but I have started to notice the odd person drinking craft beer from a can – don’t be surprised if beer in a can becomes very cool soon!

In the final analysis, I think it’s fair to say that craft beers are worth some attention from wine lovers. Just like choosing a wine, it’s simply a matter of finding the right beer for you and the occasion, from the myriad of styles now available.

Craft beer blog offer – This offer has now ended. Please see our most recent blog post for the current offer.

Speaking of fabulous craft beer, we have a special offer for blog readers, available until the 12th of November:

$16 per 4 pack of Camden Town Brewery’s

  • Hells Lager
  • Pale Ale or
  • Belgian Witbier

You can find out more about these beers at

To take advantage of this offer, all you need do is mention The Secret Cellar craft beer blog offer when you order over the phone or purchase in-store at La Vigna.

This offer has now ended. Please see our most recent blog post for the current offer.

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