Having trouble choosing between beer and wine? Good news: You don’t have to, because beer-wine hybrids are a thing. What are beer-wine hybrids, you ask? At base, they’re pretty much what you think they are — alcoholic beverages that are mainly beer, but also include some characteristics of wine — but of course, there's more to it than that. I know, I know — wine and beer… don’t really sound like they should mix, do they? That’s kind of where I stand on the matter; however, with more and more craft breweries adding these types of brews to their lineups, I’m starting to think that maybe they might be worth giving a shot.
To address the initial question: Beer-wine hybrids are… kind of complicated, actually. There isn’t really One True Process by which beer-wine hybrids are made, so the identifying markers that make something a beer-wine hybrid are somewhat fluid. As Imbibe Magazine put it back in 2014, early beer-wine hybrids were aged in old wine barrels; however, adds the magazine, brewers have now begun “[dipping] deeper into winemakers’ tool kit by adding grapes — be it juice, fruit, or the blend of skins, seeds, stems, and pressed juice known as ‘must’ — to beer, and fermenting with wine yeasts.” Since the only thing these brews have in common is that they borrow from the winemaking process in some way, shape, or form — but not necessarily the same way, shape, or form — the result is a collection of “hybrids that defy neat categorization.”
But beer-wine hybrids aren’t new; indeed, a quick Google search reveals news coverage of this variety of boozy beverage going back several years. By most accounts, craft breweries began toying around with the idea in the ‘90s. For example, Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch — a drink brewed with Muscat grapes, barley, honey, and saffron that hovers in the center section of the Venn diagram of beer, wine, and mead — was first released in 1999; meanwhile, although California-based brewery Calicraft didn’t come along until 2012, one of its signature brews — Buzzerkeley, a sparkling ale fermented with Champagne yeasts — was created by accident in 1997: According to Imbibe Magazine, founder Blaine Landberg, then a student at the University of California, Berkeley, had been trying to home brew a Belgian-style ale in his dorm room, but found that substituting honey for candi sugar created an overly sweet brew. In an effort to fix it, he added wine yeast — which, he’d read, had a “talent at kick-starting fermentation and drying out beer” — and ended up with something that he said “tasted better than anything [he’d] ever had.”
A lot of the experimentation, however, owes itself to the work of biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern. According to the Chicago Tribune, McGovern’s analysis of residue found inside a variety of vessels recovered from a tomb in Turkey that is believed to have once held the remains of Midas Tumulus, who ruled Phrygia in the eighth century BCE revealed the existence of a fermented drink made of grapes, barely, and honey — which, in turn, led McGovern to wonder if it might be possible to recreate the beverage now. He then teamed up with Dogfish Head — a partnership which produced Midas Touch.
So: If beer-wine hybrids have been around for so long, why is interest suddenly spiking in them now? Well, they’re currently making the rounds thanks to a piece published by Bloomberg on Feb. 16 which has subsequently been syndicated in a variety of other publications. The Bloomberg piece offers a bit more insight into what makes a good hybrid; according to writer Spike Carter, hybrids frequently use saison farmhouse or sourales as their base recipes due to the fact that they “already [have] a bit of heft to stand up to those grapes.” Like Imbibe Magazine’s Joshua M. Bernstein, Carter notes that the actual process from therevaries from brew to brew: “Sometimes the beer is co-fermented with [the grapes]at the outset; other times it’ll get racked onto the fruit for an extended fermentation and aging,” he writes. “The results are wildly unique, sometimes odd, and usually a delicious blurring of the lines.”
Happily, beer-wine hybrids are also becoming easier to find these days. Interested in trying one?
By Lucia Peters
March 9, 2018
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