Many restaurants offer wine dinners, and more recently beer dinners have become popular as well. But on Oct. 16, about 35 people enjoyed a friendly contest at Columbia’s Aida Bistro and Wine Bar to see whether beer or wine was a better accompaniment to a four-course meal.

Aida Bistro owner Joe Barbera and his chef, Sean Riggs, selected the wines for the evening, and Clipper City Brewing Co. provided the beer. The spirit of the evening was all about exploration, experimentation and fun, with a bit of a poke at the traditional notion that wine goes better with fine food than beer.

Chandra Colwell, 33, and her husband, Brian, 35, of Federal Hill, had read about the dinner on the Clipper City Web site.

“I’m interested in the combination of the tastes,” said Chandra Colwell, who tends to prefer wine to beer. “The food looked fantastic, and I thought it would be perfect for us.”

Before the couple married last year, Brian Colwell was more of a beer drinker. But with his wife’s influence, he said, he has learned to enjoy Sauvignon Blanc in the summer and Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel in the colder months. The couple has even visited the Napa Valley in California and toured wineries there.

Chef Riggs explained how he put together his menu for the evening. He sampled the Clipper City beers and chose wines he felt were of similar weight for each course. “Let the food stand back. Don’t do anything complicated,” he said. “What you taste is what’s in it.”

The first course was rockfish poached in a very light broth. It was paired with a McHenry Lager and a Gruner Veltliner. For the second course, Riggs wrapped pork tenderloin with bacon strips. That was paired with an Oxford Organic Amber Ale and a California Pinot Noir.

“I really enjoy that beer, and I really enjoy Pinots,” Riggs said. “I think of Pinot as a gateway to red wines, and I think of this beer as a gateway to heavier, stronger beers.”

Another couple who enjoyed the competition were Ann and Ron Clarke, of Ellicott City. “I’m not a beer drinker, but I was surprised,” said Ann Clarke, 55. “The first course, I thought the beer went better than the wine.”

By the end of the evening, there was no clear winner. After each course, guests voted on their preferences, and it was fairly evenly split each time. Perhaps the best result was that many people’s preferences for beer or wine changed throughout the evening, depending on what was being served.