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French beer tax resurrects the old wine vs. beer cultural rift

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Quite a brouhaha they’re having over in France, where the government plans to tax beer, but not wine.

This, despite the fact that the French barely drink beer at all; France has Europe’s next to last lowest beer consumption rate. (Maybe that’s why the government is targeting foam heads. There’s not enough of them to organize a proper riot.) The extra funding the proposed tax will bring in is to go to the country’s social security system.

There may not be many beer drinkers in France, but such as they are, they’re an ornery lot, annoyed they’re being asked to dig deeper while snootier wine drinkers aren’t. “I am shocked that beer is the only target,” said a café owner, quoted in the New York Times, which added, “Complaints about the tax increase are coming not just from customers, but from brewers, the food industry generally and politicians, who know that some voters, at least, like French ales.”

The controversy also has stirred up an old dualism: that beer drinkers are more blue collar, conservative, downscale and traditionally male than wine drinkers, who are portrayed as effete metrosexual strivers. The German online journal DW, reporting on the French tax, called it “A question of class” in which “beer…the drink of the poor” plays second fiddle to wine, which “has always been a middle class drink.”

This split, between beer drinkers as “real guys” and wine drinkers as the “San Francisco brie-and-Chablis” crowd, long has been most visible in the U.S. through advertising, and particularly T.V. commercials, in which beer lovers, overwhelmingly men, are depicted carousing in sports bars. Wine T.V. commercials by contrast—well, there aren’t enough of them to speak of, since the giant breweries can afford air time that top wine companies cannot. Cavit, the big Italian wine company, occasionally has a commercial, like this one, which couldn’t be further away, in symbol and spirit, from a beer commercial. Scantily clad couples in a hot tub! Trattoria music, with accordions and violins instead of screeching electric guitars and pounding drums! And, the ultimate anti-beer touch, men in tuxedos! Contrast that with this Miller commercial, in which a guy who orders a Lite beer in a bar has his masculinity questioned by the babelicious bartender who tells him to “put down your purse” which is actually a carry-on bag.

I thought things might be changing when the craft brew movement exploded, and certainly in places like coastal California and the Pacific Northwest, the wine and beer cultures overlap so perfectly that Nick Gislason, Screaming Eagle’s winemaker, is a home brewer. And the nation’s Metrosexual-in-Chief, President Obama, also practices the art of home foaming.

But elsewhere, the dichotomy seems alive and well. As the Daily Iowan lampooned, Are you sick of hearing women talk? Are you stupid and lazy? Do you need constant reassurance that you are a man? Have a beer!

That’s satirical, of course, but all satire depends on a resemblance to reality in order to strike home. There remain, in this country, millions of people who will not drink wine because, to them, there’s something suspect about it.

Well, in a form of reverse snobbery, I’m a wine guy, but tonight, I plan on drinking an IPA home brewed by my friend, Jeremy, an Oakland firefighter. He’s not stupid or lazy, and he loves women. He’s enough of a man to rush into a burning apartment building and rescue people and he doesn’t need to be thanked for it. “Just doing my job,” is what you’ll get from Jeremy, who also loves a nice Pinot Noir.

  1. I was actually inspired by your article today and was determined to partake in some reverse wine snobbery of my own. So much so that I made my plan for dinner: Steak, baked potato, and beer. On the way home, I stopped at our neighborhood market: The Whole Foods. They were out of porterhouses, but my trusted female fish monger told me the scallops were really fresh. I forgot about the potato and opted for some quinoa. When I got home, I ventured into the cellar, I mean basement, to grab some beer to put in the fridge. The only beer I had was from Belgium (the Dutchesse de Bourgogne), so I opted for a Chassagne-Montrachet instead. But it was a 2003—a difficult year (and not even a 1er Cru!). Can I still count it as reverse wine snobbery?

  2. Dear DRunken Cyclist: Yes, you are officially a reverse snob!

  3. Nick is one very cool guy, and it’s really exciting where he’s at and at such a young age. Hung out with him over some beers from my cellar several months back in Yountville and had a blast talking about everything from homebrew beers to fireworks, which he dabbles in making as well.

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  1. NEWS FETCH – DECEMBER 3, 2012 | Wine Industry Insight - [...] French beer tax resurrects the old wine vs. beer cultural rift [...]
  2. Fancy beer: pinkies out or middle fingers up? | East Bay Beer - […] some of it supporting the beer industry. I want to stop hearing about anywhere in the world where beer …

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