Grain vs grape

by Steven Poole on June 28, 2006

I’d like to thank Chris and Kieran for inviting me to guest blog here for a while. Since I’m under no obligation to conform to the self-imposed strictures of my own blog, I thought I’d begin by relating my dismay this afternoon upon noticing the headline “Beer better for you than wine: official”. Since I live in Paris, where good wine is cheap and beer is hideously expensive, I was horrified. Luckily, the article in question goes on to prove its own nugatory level of reliability, for the man telling us that beer is healthier than wine is, um, a “beer specialist”, no less than the “Anheuser-Busch endowed Professor of Brewing Science at the University of California”. Phew, that’s ok. It’s more like a PR agency for fossil-fuel companies telling us that carbon dioxide is good for you. Of course, I have nothing against beer, and will indeed be taking out a large bank loan in order to toast England’s victory on Saturday with a small glass of Amstel. Now, will some kindly scientist please tell me once and for all whether the vast quantity of coffee I drink is, on the whole, good or bad?



Russell L. Carter 06.28.06 at 12:05 pm

“Now, will some kindly scientist please tell me once and for all whether the vast quantity of coffee I drink is, on the whole, good or bad?”

Some say it might be good


abb1 06.28.06 at 12:15 pm

Is beer hideously expensive in France? I thought it was quite cheap, actually. Don’t know about Paris, though…


Steven 06.28.06 at 12:35 pm

Russell: good to protect against liver cirrhosis, but that doesn’t reassure me in an “on the whole” sense…

abb1: where I live it’s around €7 a pint (roughly £5 or $9). Santé, etc.


Reinder 06.28.06 at 12:40 pm

Amstel? If you’re going to take out a loan to buy beer anyway, why not take out a slightly larger loan to buy something actually drinkable?

I’d just as soon not bother.


Sebastian Holsclaw 06.28.06 at 12:41 pm

While we are talking about beer may I reccommend Gouden Carolus (Belgian)? If you are going to pay a bit for beer it is tough to beat it.


abb1 06.28.06 at 12:47 pm

Steven, here across the border from Geneva, I just asked my wife, she says for 2euro+change you get 20 250ml bottles.


des von bladet 06.28.06 at 1:18 pm

I have recently moved to the Netherlands (“Holland”), where you can pick up* a crate of 24 300ml bockles of (admittedly bottom of the range) bier for EUR 3.49. It’s good for my wallet, if nothing else.

* You might want to use your bike as a trolley if you’re taking it far, though but.


Jake 06.28.06 at 2:16 pm

Here’s some believable info on alchohol and health. Summary: a little is a good thing and it doesn’t matter much whether it’s wine, beer, or liquor.

How much coffee is a “vast quantity” anyhow?


Steven Poole 06.28.06 at 2:26 pm

I guess it’s my fault for ordering beer in expensive Montmartre bars instead of living in the Netherlands or just across from Geneva.

My vast quantity of coffee is about a kilo of beans a week. (Obviously I don’t actually eat the beans.) Should I be worried?


Mark 06.28.06 at 2:48 pm

I was in Paris at the end of May , staying in an apartment in the 15th, and I would buy a six-pack of Stella Artois at the Monoprix for E3.25


Isabel 06.28.06 at 2:55 pm

It all depends on how you make your coffee. Espresso or drip? Expresso is a lot more cost-effective and

8-ounce Beverage milligrams
Coffee, Drip 115-175
Coffee, Brewed 80-135
Coffee, Espresso (2 ounces) 100


Rob G 06.28.06 at 2:58 pm

Yeah, Steven, you’ve got to watch out for these self-interested experts. Apparently the bloke who conducted the study disproving any link between foot size and penis size wore a size 4.


Mo MacArbie 06.28.06 at 3:00 pm

Aw, I attended the brewing program at UC Davis. Anheuser-Busch merely endowed the chair and provided the money for a much-needed upgrade in the program’s brewing equipment (which, when I was there, was somewhat inferior to the top end homebrewing stuff then on the market). Dr. Charles Bamforth is no corporate shill. He had already made a name for himself at Heriott-Watt University in Edinburgh studying beer foam. All you academics toiling away in some abstruse corner of literary theory could have been studying the head on a pint!


Isabel 06.28.06 at 3:00 pm

Ooops! The post got off before I managed to correct the messy table. But maybe you can still see how much caffeine you are intaking? Anyway, a kilo of beans per week in espressos seems a lot, not so much if you use a percolator (horrible waste!)


Steven Poole 06.28.06 at 3:37 pm

I didn’t mean to imply that Dr Bamforth is any kind of corporate shill, just perhaps that, given his specialty, he might have a sort of affectionate bias in favour of beer… I agree that studying beer foam seems an excellent way to spend an academic life.

For coffee I use a cafetière, or “French press”, natch.


parmck 06.28.06 at 3:42 pm

Have to agree with mo regarding Dr Bamforth. The endowment Anheuser Busch provided UC Davis might be enough to pay a secretary’s salary with enough left over for a couple of crates of brown ale. The research performed at the university is freely shared with the entire brewing industry and Dr Bamforth is and advocate for the entire brewing industry, not just Anheuser Busch. His contention that beer in moderation is good for you has been his position for decades, long before he took his present position. Similar claims have been made by numerous studies over the years.
Regarding the coffee consumption…if you’re worried about it you’re probably drinking too much


Mo MacArbie 06.28.06 at 5:25 pm

I am not trying to inject controversy into what is a light-hearted post. But hey, I make beer for a living, and I may be a bit sensitive to this stuff. Comparing the man to a PR agency for fossil fuels seemed to have more than a whiff of an imputation of shillitude to my reading. My apologies if I overreact.

There may be more than just an affectionate bias though. UC Davis–close as it is to the Napa Valley–has a prestigious enology and viticulture program as well. So there may be a bit of interdepartmental rivalry going on, as well as a brewer’s frustration in being legally barred from claiming any sort of health benefit whatsoever.

In another matter, my brewery is hosting a brewing class right this very minute. I invited the head of that outfit to respond here as well. Then I realized he was using my computer! So that’s not just a sock puppet, I swear!


pp 06.28.06 at 6:43 pm

UC Davis alum as well where a lot of this research is done. Alumni mag has articles pretty regularly about food and beverage and health science. Bottom line is have a beer before dinner, some wine with, and some espresso after and you’ll cover all the bases.


Daniel 06.29.06 at 3:11 am

Steven is new here and therefore doesn’t know that the official policy of Crooked Timber is that Anheuser-Busch is a fantastic company and I have every reason to believe that their research into health issues is every bit as fantastic as their flagship Budweiser (the real Budweiser which has been brewed since 1876 by natives of Budweis, not the johnny-come-lately Budvar from Ceske Buedjowice) beer.

Or at least, that’s the official policy until Chris catches me saying so :-)


Tim Worstall 06.29.06 at 5:11 am

Interesting that you should use the fossil fuels and CO2 good for you argument. For this provides the answer to whether beer or wine is better for you. Obviously, the health of the planet affects your health so the 28,000 tonnes of CO2 given off by beer in the UK alone each year is deleterious to your health. Wine, therefore, must be the answer.

We should also ban beer to save Gaia, of course.

(Please note that I am not a paid shill for the wine producing industry.)


chris y 06.29.06 at 6:10 am

Now, will some kindly scientist please tell me once and for all whether the vast quantity of coffee I drink is, on the whole, good or bad?

Good, apparently, if you also like a glass or two. Of course, whether these people have shares in Maxwell House is another question.


Mo MacArbie 06.29.06 at 9:40 am

Um, CO2 is given off by wine fermentation just as it is by beer fermentation. Beer just retains (sequesters, if you will) a bit of it. But it’s all a bit of a wash, since we’re talking about last summer’s CO2 stored in the grains and grapes, as opposed to the last several million years’ CO2 in the fuels.

I’m paid by the beer industry, but I’m still developing my shill skills. Wine stains your shirts while beer washes right out! Save the earth from the rampant overuse of cleaning chemicals!


Tim Worstall 06.29.06 at 11:42 am

Ah, no, I was talking rather of the CO2 forced into the pastuerised versions of beer to give it bubbles and a head. That is, of course, on top of all that you talk about.

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