Editor's note: Beer or wine? We posed that question to Don Russell, whose "Joe Sixpack" beer column appears weekly here, and Marnie Old, a local sommelier and wine author who writes the "Cheap Buzz" column in the Daily News with Assistant Managing Editor Gar "Buzz" Joseph. With Buzz as referee, let the games begin.
BUZZ: Hey, Marnie, I read that you're going to debate Pennsylvania beer vs. Pennsylvania wine on Tuesday at World Cafe Live.
Marnie: Yes, it's a "people's choice" dinner during Philly Wine Week to determine which drink is the best food partner, loosely based on my first book, He Said Beer, She Said Wine.
Buzz: How's it work?
Marnie: We'll serve only Pennsylvania-made drinks and ask the audience to vote their preference with each dish of a three-course meal. I'll be stumping for wine votes on behalf of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, going up against the president of the Brewers of Pennsylvania, Bill Covaleski, from Victory Brewing Co. You should come!
Buzz: Sounds fun. But you better watch out. There are some foods that go only with beer, like bratwurst and sauerkraut. You'll lose that one.
Marnie: No way. That's a dish tailor-made for a sweet-tart Riesling like the one they make at Crossing Vineyards, in Bucks County. You would be surprised how often people's assumptions about what they will like best with a particular dish turn out to be mistaken once two options are compared side by side.
Since everything you put in your mouth changes how the next thing tastes, the drink we like best alone doesn't always make the best pairing. Wine and beer are more alike than they are different - for both, the flavor magic comes from fermentation, where yeasts convert sugar into alcohol, and generate new flavors and scents that aren't present in the raw ingredients.
Buzz: I still think you're gonna need a workout before you enter the ring with Covaleski, so look who I brought: Joe Sixpack!
Joe: Yo, Buzz, I can sure stand up for local beer. In fact, I was the guy who started Philly Beer Week, which launched more than 5,000 beer-and-food pairings that clearly inspired the grapey copycats.
But, frankly, the only credible Pennsylvania wine I know of is: "I can't believe the Eagles just traded LeSean McCoy for a linebacker!"
Marnie: Copycats? I think not, Joe. Wine pairings for specific foods have been practiced for centuries, and I seem to remember writing my book long before Beer Week existed.
Buzz: OK, sounds like you guys are ready to rumble! I challenged Marnie with bratwurst. Now I'll dare Joe to convince me there's a beer that goes better with a rare steak than a good cabernet.
Joe: That's actually an excellent pairing suggestion, Buzz, because there's nothing better than a bloody steak with marbled fat and caramelized onions to erase the foulness of a cabernet's dry-mouth tannins. But if you want to serve that steak with a beverage fit for a meat-eater, choose a stout.
Lancaster Milk Stout is on my short list because its roasted flavor gives way to a subtle, creamy sweetness that is perfectly in tune with a steak's grilled flavor. But aren't we getting a little ahead of ourselves? I thought we were starting with a cheese course.
Marnie: Chefs and civilized drinkers save the cheese course for last, Joe, and usually pair it with wine. But, since you're here, do tell - why is it that brewers often attempt to improve flavor by adding fruit, but you couldn't pay a winemaker to adulterate their drink with hops or malt?
Joe: Beermakers aren't trying to "improve" their flavor with fruit. They just aren't hidebound by archaic rules, such as waiting until dessert to eat the cheese. That inventiveness has resulted in accessible flavors for all palates, from the Everyman to the dilettante.
It's no wonder that some winemakers, like South Jersey's Valenzano, are chafing at convention to produce a wonderful chardonnay infused (or, as you say, "adulterated") with Citra hops.
Marnie: I'm not convinced, Joe. If people really like the taste of barley, malt or hops, why aren't they in demand for anything but brewing? On the wine side, I see plenty of grapes at the store. Grape juice, raisins and jelly, too.
But there are no hop sauces or barley cookies from the beer side, unless you count Ovaltine. It seems that people mainly choose to drink beer when wine is not an option, either economically or geographically.
After all, wine ruled anywhere grapes were easily grown, historically speaking - think Italy, Spain and France - while beer was king only in regions where it was too cold for vineyards, like Germany, Belgium and the British Isles.
Buzz: Hey, I love Ovaltine. And malted milk shakes. And grape juice, too.
Joe: No other food with the same ingredients? Allow me to introduce you to bread, Marnie. It's made with cereal grain and yeast and water, just like beer. It's only missing the hops, which weren't popular till about 500 years ago.
In fact, it was beer and bread - and the domestication of its ingredients - that historians say created the civilization of mankind. What is wine's greatest contribution to our culture? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the corkscrew.
Buzz: And the hangover. But I get that from beer, too. This is going to be a close fight.
Marnie: Trust me on this. Over the years, I've done almost 50 beer vs. wine dinners with my book's co-author, Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. The results almost always come down to a handful of votes on a single course, even with highly partisan audiences at a beer bar or wine festival.
I'm sure it will be the same at this "He Said PA Beer, She Said PA Wine" event, where we'll duke it out over shrimp salad, juicy burgers and a chocolate dessert.