I picked up a copy of Grape vs. Grain at a Clouston and Hall sale here in Adelaide.
The book purports to take the reader on an exploration of the cultural and technological differences between wine and beer. Charles Bamforth, the author, is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California, Davis – and while he is up front about this, this does rather give you an idea about the bias the book might, and indeed, does, take.
I consider myself enthusiastic about both beer and wine: I run a wine education business, and while studying the Professional Certificate in Gastronomy wrote my final essay on stout and porter. When I lived in England I could often be found at beer (of the real ale type) festivals or in one of my locals, usually trying out something new. So I was really hoping for an even handed and relatively detailed investigation.
Unfortunately, this was not to be found and I suspect that my open minded approach to the book was lost on page xi (that’s right – in the preface): “… the decline of locally traditional values in a proud industry (the dearth of cask ale in London) …”. Bamforth arrives at this conclusion after a single day in London and a visit to two pubs. At the time this book was published (2008) I was still in the position of making relatively frequent trips to London and at no point did I struggle to find a decent selection of beers, or, indeed, a decent pint. Obviously, I was not wandering into any old High Street chain pub (although Wetherspoons are generally reliable for a good selection of well kept ales) but I was not doing any more research than I would do were I looking for a good restaurant for dinner.
It’s a shame that this type of glibness really pervades much of the book. There are sections which show potential: the chapter “The Healthfulness* of Wine and Beer” could have been really interesting but lacked the rigour and objectivity such an important subject needs and deserves.
Overall, I was disappointed by this book. I’m glad I read it (it’s not long!) but I did think it could have offered so much more.
* I loathe this word with a passion.