beer-wine hybrid

Two Worlds Collide with Beer-Wine Hybrid

Our palates are becoming more promiscuous. According to IRI Worldwide, a market research company, adults of all ages are reaching for different alcohol styles instead of sticking to just one.

At the same time, brewers and vintners are breaking down barriers of their own, creating beverages that collides the two worlds of beer and wine and making recipes themselves.

We couldn’t possibly take sides…but lately, we’ve been seeing wine-beer hybrids pop up on shelves—and our indecisive hearts are swooning.

Basically, craft breweries are using wine grapes in their beers, creating frankenbrew ales that offer the best of both worlds. They’ll often start with a saison or sour ale that will stand up to—and complement—the grapes. The practice of adding grapes to beer actually dates back to Belgian lambics of the 1970s (and we’re so glad it’s back).

“The profile of the beer will usually be tailored to match the qualities of the [grape varieties] involved,” says Brian Strumke, who founded Stillwater Artisanal Ales in 2010 with a mission to brew beer unique enough to compete with wine at the dinner table. “The mash bill, yeast strains, whether we oak-age or dry-hop—it’s all dependent upon the things we’re combining.”

Most recently, Dogfish Head debuted Mixed Media, a beer similar to a saison that also incorporates late-harvest Viognier grape must, offering notes of white grape and melon, and a spicy, white wine-like body, thanks to a Belgian yeast strain.

“By blending the two seemingly opposite worlds of beer and wine together we’ve discovered that they collide quite nicely, and the combination of the two adds an additional thread of flavor and a layer of complexity to the mix,” Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head founder said in a press release. “Our newest spin, Mixed Media, is perfect for wine drinkers who are at beer drinking occasions or folks that enjoy a crisp, light Pinot Gris.”

The process of creating beer-wine is, in some ways, quite simple: brewers ferment beers in wine barrels or just toss the raw beer grains in with the grapes during fermentation. One of the biggest issues is finding the right yeast, a delicate balancing act. Traditionally, beer makers opt for ale and lager yeast: it works quickly and can tackle both complex and simple sugars. Wine yeasts, however, aren’t so friendly when paired with these other yeasts, and can take significantly longer to yield a finished product. A finished product which will generally taste like wine and have the texture of beer, opening up an entirely new realm of flavors for beer drinkers.

As you’d expect, these flavors and notes vary wildly and brewers pair grapes and beers with complimentary undertones. As the bottling process is a little longer than a traditional ale, many breweries have started to open up club programs to cover costs until customers can take the first sip.

Many consider it the best of both worlds and the bridge between them. But as a gluten-intolerant wine snob, I’ll just stick with my Chardonnay.

Bottoms up!