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Wine and beer

Cornell University offers an advanced course titled 'Understanding Wine and Beer'. Topics covered range from the history of viticulture to the microbiology of fermentation to the neurobiology of taste, along with the expected lectures on chemistry, color and tasting methods. Clearly, the two most popular alcoholic drinks have arrived.

The traditional view is that women drink more wine than beer, and men more beer than wine — and statistical studies bear that out. But, even so, the numbers show the figures are rapidly drawing close. For the first time in 10 years, Gallup polls show a tie between wine and beer as the alcoholic drink adults consume most often, regardless of sex.

Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever. - Aristophanes

Wine has lost much of its 'snob index' as even good wines have come down in price and unacceptable 'table wines' have lost market share. Blogs aplenty are writing furiously to assure those on the fence that wine is for everybody. The French and Italians have known this for centuries. Home winemaking kits can now be had for less than the cost of a good camera and, with practice, can be used to make acceptable wine.

At the same time, beer — thanks to the rise of micro-breweries and effective marketing — has elevated its once lowly status to that of rivaling good wine, if not the $1,000 vintage. No longer viewed as the sole province of the barbarian, specialist brewed beer has become the new fine wine. Soon it will have its own 'snob index'.

Home brew equipment is only slightly more expensive than wine making kits, but the quality produced can be as good as the pros. One Northwest home hobbyist recently went from manufacturing in his basement to leasing a 50,000 square foot building stocked with brewing and bottling equipment and fronted by a beer tasting bar. He's using exactly the same recipe and business is booming.

Even the medical researchers are getting into the act by proclaiming that many of the health benefits asserted for red wine can be had by drinking beer. In November 1999, The New England Journal of Medicine stated that moderate beer consumption decreased the odds of suffering a stroke by 20 percent. A study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center reported that consuming moderate amounts of beer lowered the chance of coronary heart disease by 30-40 percent.

It may be that the alcohol alone produces much of the desired effects, apart from the unique ingredients of red wine. Others speculate that since beer contains a similar amount of polyphenols — which are anti-oxidants — as red wine (and 4-5 times as much as white) similar health benefits are to be expected. And, like wine, beer is fat-free and cholesterol free.

So whether your preference is for the Cabernet Sauvignon '96 or the Laughing Dog lager '06, you can set aside any considerations of social status and just imbibe, knowing you're doing nothing more than attending to your health.

After all, if Cornell University is willing to devote a professor's time for an entire semester to the science of wine and beer, you can always claim your choice has been validated by the finest minds around.