Style: Fruit/Vegetable Beer – Beer/Wine Hybrid
You may have heard talk recently about beer-wine hybrids as brewers are becoming intrigued with them, however, they’re not really new. In fact, Belgium’s Brasserie Cantillon, has annually released Vigneronne Cantillon (a lambic made with muscat grapes and then aged in oak barrels released once a year) since the 80s. In the early 2000s, Belgian brewers Bosteels and Malheur championed the Bière de Champagne or Bière Brut style of beermaking, mimicking winemakers’ remuage and dégorgement processes, which is also becoming increasingly popular on the west coast. On a grander scale, from Molson-Coors will be Blue Moon Vintage Blonde Ale. This beer is part of the Brewer’s Reserve Series and is being brewed with Chardonnay grape juice. The beer already has won a gold medal from the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. Beer-wine hybrids go beyond aging beer in used wine barrels, or fermenting them with wine yeast. Brewers want to take that next step closer to the line by using grape must, fresh pressed grape juice sometimes including the skins, seeds, and stems.
One company who has been tackling this style for some years is dogfish head. They have made a number of these styled beers since the early 90s. Dogfish Head made its first grape and grain hybrid in 1996, Raison D’Etre, which used partially dehydrated grapes. The following year they rolled out Red & White, a Witbier fermented with Pinot Noir juice. In 1999, came their Ancient Ales series, beginning with Midas Touch, a mead-beer hybrid brewed with white Muscat grapes, barley, wildflower-honey, and saffron. It was inspired by ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels found in the tomb of King Midas. In 2011, Dogfish Head boasted its Noble Rot as 49% wine and 51% beer – it was brewed with a benign fungus, botrytis-infected Viognier, and Pinot Gris grape must. Then in 2013, Sixty-One was a riff on the continually hopped 60-Minute IPA, adding the addition of Syrah grape must to the mix.
Most recently Dogfish Head has brewed another hybrid, Mixed Media. Similar to their Noble Rot, except without the use of Noble Rot grapes. Mixed Media is brewed with 49% of its fermentable sugars coming from Viognier grape must from Alexandria Nicole Cellars in Washington, and then fermented with a Belgian yeast strain. Essentially its just a saison brewed with white grape must.
Mixed Media starts off with a golden body, and a small cream like head that left subtle lacing and dissipated almost entirely about half way through. Aromas of sweet malt, honey, Belgian spice, and light grape juice are evident. The mouthfeel, pushed by a medium carbonation, was smooth without any harsh bitterness. Sweet malt flavors are upfront with lingering flavors of honey, musk melon, elderflower, and white grape juice with a rye-like spice in the finish. As this beer warmed up the alcohol showed through unnecessarily. This beer also left my palate feeling a bit sticky which is ill-favored to me.
I thought these grapes would have lent more pleasant fruity esters, and a fuller, softer body, however, I am not particularly familiar with these grape varietals, so for this review, I decided I wanted to get the opinion of a real wine drinker who’s palate is tuned a bit differently than mine. I gave a bottle to Daniel, who is one of our very own awesome wine buyer’s and a wine aficionado. This is what he had to say about it, “Viognier grapes from Washington State blended with typical ale grains is the premise behind the Mixed Media “science project.” Cool concept but the Belgium yeast strain seems to take most of the credit. The floral Viognier notes are pushed pretty far back into the tart Saison style that leaves more pucker than richness. I was expecting more creamy, round notes from the addition of the wine but instead Mixed Media was just a hybrid project that missed the mark.”
This beer was a nice try at something that could have been real interesting. I would have enjoyed seeing stronger characteristics from this grape varietal come through, I just don’t think they captured the real essence of the grape. Dogfish Heads Noble Rot seemed to be on the dryer side if i remember correctly, and i do remember truly enjoying it. Perhaps my taste has changed that much since then. This beer just didn’t seem very vinous, and I think if we are going to call these hybrids beer/wine hybrids consumers are going to want stronger wine notes in there, especially if we are going to try and convert wine drinkers to beer. OK, maybe not convert entirely, but at the very least show wine drinkers that beer can be pretty complex too, and there is a time and place for both beverages. After all, if you speak to any vintner, most will likely tell you that it takes a lot of good beer to make great wine. Who doesn’t want a refreshing beer after a long day of harvesting? Over the next couple weeks I will cover more on these beer/wine hybrids so we can see what they’re really about, and what direction brewers are heading in with them.
Beer Buyer Overall Rating: 3 Out of 5 Pints!