If you had two hard-to-find great beers in your fridge right now, would you consider mixing them together to create an entirely new brew? What if they were vintage beers you could not replace?
Many of our favorite beverages are actually blends. Beer blending is not really all that new.
Most people would not take the chance since the risks can be pretty high. You could find that the concoction doesn’t taste all that good—a sad case of the sum being lesser than its parts. Blending any beverage from individual liquids is not as simple as it sounds. Whether it is a cocktail or a meritage wine, the mixture is almost never as straightforward as combining equal parts of each component.
My personal enlightenment about the skills of master blenders came a few years back on a pilgrimage with some other beverage writers to the Canadian Mist Distillery on the Georgian Bay, north of Toronto. The freezing temperature and ever-present snow in the dead of winter were not the only challenges we faced between tours and tastings provided by our hosts from Brown-Forman. Canadian whisky is a blend of various grain spirits, including rye, wheat, barley and corn. Other spirits, such as brandy and sherry, can also be used in small quantities as flavoring agents.
After tasting the various blending components that had been placed before us, we each took a shot at creating what we thought would surely be the ultimate blend for a Canadian whisky. I recall my blend was barely drinkable and there were some others that were not even that good—so much for my dreams of a career as a master blender.
Many of our favorite beverages are actually blends. Beer blending is not really all that new. A number of classic beer styles, such as Düsseldorf alt and Belgian lambic, require brewers to blend component brews. Bartenders get in on the action, too. Witness the Black and Tan (stout and pale ale), Half and Half (stout and lager), and the Snake Bite (lager and cider), which are common in some Irish pubs. Before World War I, Germans created a summer session drink called Radler that is a 50/50 mix of beer and either lemonade or citrus-flavored soda. And Americans can buy packaged Black and Tans from brands like Yuengling and Saranac that are mixtures of porter and lager.
Increasingly, the trend in beer blending is moving more in the direction of creating something similar to a Grand Cru Bordeaux from the wine world: a marriage of great component parts that could stand on their own into something that reflects the science and the art available to the brewmaster.