“It takes a lot of beer to make great wine.”
Or so the old winemaking chestnut goes. These days, the inverse is becoming true, with wine making inroads into beer recipes themselves. (As adjuncts go, wine grapes are less strange than Lucky Charms, lobster, and actual paper money.)
“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.”
For Stillwater a pinot noir beer was the perfect candidate for oak-aging, while riesling and sauvignon blanc beers ended up getting dry-hopped. (As for which wine Strumke likes on its own? “Anything bubbly, almost always something with skin contact, and the less filtered the better.”)
These beer-wine hybrids often start with a saison farmhouse or sour ale as a base recipe—something that already has a bit of heft to stand up to those grapes. Sometimes the beer is co-fermented with them at the outset; other times it’ll get racked onto the fruit for extended fermentation and aging. The results are wildly unique, sometimes odd, and usually a delicious blurring of the lines.