Tasting Room Battle: Wine Versus Beer

Michael Donato, May 14, 2015

After a recent trip to a few brewery tasting rooms my wife remarked to me how we hadn’t actually bought any beer to take home, but when we go to wineries we always seem to end up with a half dozen bottles.

This was an interesting revelation for me. I have a beer most nights, and in general beer comes in single serving bottles, even if you have to buy four or six of them at once. It’s easier to consume versus a bottle of wine that generally has four servings in it. Even if you’re splitting it, two drinks in an evening doesn’t always make for a sound night’s sleep or a comfortable morning. So why do I end up with six bottles after visiting a few wineries, but nothing or next to nothing when I go to breweries? 

We went on a winery tour out on Long Island the weekend of my wedding. The first place operated a lot more like a brewery might; with tokens for cups of alcohol and you mill about and return when you want more. There was a food truck and a live band. We hung out, drank wine, ate some food, and drank some more wine. We didn’t buy anything with this set up.

The second place was not having an event, and operated like most wineries. You get a list of the 10-12 wines they’re pouring, with sample notes and flight offers. You’re in a building with buckets of wine bottles all for sale. Clearly this was a special occasion, but I’m not exaggerating when I say we probably bought a dozen bottles of wine... and went up for more! We had wine at the brewery and even saved some for later back at the hotel. I actually still have a bottle or two floating around my house. There’s a video of me somewhere making a one-handed catch of a football out on the winery grass while drinking wine with the other hand. 

Perhaps that’s part of the problem; Vineyards are typically idyllic landscaped rows of green grass and beautiful vines of grapes in rustic buildings. Breweries are often plain brick buildings or warehouses in industrial areas. Vineyards provide manicured lawns, flowers, and gazebos while breweries have big metal tanks, hoses running everywhere and bags of grain lying about. You typically enjoy yourself and relax at a vineyard, but you head to a brewery to try the beer and get out. There are exceptions of course, and many breweries are fine places to hang out and drink, but for the vast majority are very utilitarian. 

Wine trails exist as destinations mostly due to the tendency for vineyards to be grouped where the grapes grow best. Beer trails, or beer bus tours, are growing in popularity but aren’t there yet. If you’re in Napa, the Finger Lakes, the North Shore of Long Island or wherever your favorite wine region is, there are more wineries than you can get to in a day. Breweries are more spread out and you spend more of your time travelling between them, except in a few cases.

Maybe in the future there will be a half dozen breweries, or tasting rooms, in prime hop-growing areas for super-fresh harvest ales. Perhaps as breweries get more established they’ll start renting tasting room space along wine trails. I can envision myself walking along rows of hop bines with the sun at my back and puffy clouds floating above my head. A cool glass of of a citrus-heavy IPA in my hand as I stroll the grounds, enjoying my beer. 

The actual beverage makes a difference too. All wine is bottled and generally designed to still be drinkable months and even years after purchase. Often the beer you get at a brewery tasting room is on tap and only available via a growler which only really gives you days to enjoy it. Even most bottled or canned beer should probably be consumed within a couple of months, with a few exceptions. So you can buy a wine bottle or three with the understanding that you’ll get to it and it’s nice to have bottles you like in the house when you do. With a growler you think about what you have going on in the next few days. You’re more likely to stockpile wine than beer.

What it boils down to is that winery tasting rooms are places you go to sample wine and ultimately buy bottles of the stuff you like. Brewery tasting rooms are places you to go to drink beer. You visit breweries more often, drawn in by the allure of rotating beer taps and beers only available on site. Perhaps you often leave without having purchased something to take home, but there’s always next time. 

Michael can be found on Twitter and Untappd where he's hoping he can drink beer on a hop farm sometime soon. You can also email him at beer@ceetar.com.