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Our drink of choice? And no, it's not Bud

Somehow, wine has edged beer as America's favorite type of alcohol. Even among guys.

July 25, 2005|Robin Abcarian | Times Staff Writer

"If you think about it," he said, "where does a strong beer culture come from? It comes from the British Isles. Look at our food. If you take away Latino food and ethnic food ... everything prior to that is influenced by the Anglo-Saxon kitchen, and that is a limited one, and it carries over to beverages. You could draw a line right to that. That has created obstacles for wine to inculcate in our psyche and culture."

O'Connor and others trace the rise in wine's popularity to the economic booms of the '80s and mid-'90s, when people had money to spend on luxuries such as fine wines.

This is not great news for the beer industry, which has steadily lost market share to other forms of alcohol for about a decade. In sheer volume, though, beer still reigns. According to the Adams Beverage Group, which tracks the wine, beer and spirits market, 2.8 billion cases of beer were sold or consumed last year, compared with nearly 270 million cases of wine. (This is a growth of 3.7% for wine and a mere .6% for beer. According to Gallup's Saad, adults under age 30 are drinking far less beer and far more spirits -- in the form of sweet drinks such as Cosmopolitans. Their wine consumption has slightly dropped. "I thought the data on liquor is the most interesting part of the poll," said Saad, "but no one has called me on that.")

Brewer Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Co. and star of commercials for his Samuel Adams brand, said he finds the trend "concerning" but added that "I'm not crying in my beer about this."

However, try as he might, he could not resist knocking the competition. "I've been to these wine tastings," Koch said dismissively, "and they actually spit it out! We beer people actually enjoy drinking. We don't have to force it down."

He believes that wine makers often harbor a secret passion for beer, something he learned at Colorado's Aspen Food and Wine Festival, where for many years, his was the only beer served. "There are hundreds of wines there," said Koch, "they're in a tent pouring for hours, and when they shut it down, where do you think those winemakers go? They want a Sam Adams, because it's so hot.

"One of them said to me, 'We got a saying in Napa -- It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine.' Hey, when you're on a tractor and it's 90 degrees ..."

Koch also recalled that on election day in November, his friend Kerry ate lunch at the Union Oyster House in Boston. Kerry, said Koch, washed down his meal with an incredibly manly Sam Adams beer.

By then, of course, it was too late.

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