“We started off wanting to make a beer with organic fruit and it was cool to find something produced within 50 miles of the brewery,” Butler says. “The name of the beer came about from a bunch of us sitting around and talking about the color. Happily, we did not run into any trademark issues.”
At first Butler was concerned how the brewery’s ale yeast might react to the grape juice and he also wondered if extra cleaning procedures would be needed for equipment and tap lines. However, the yeast has performed well and the brewery’s regular cleaning regime has been all that has been needed.
Not far from Syracuse, War Horse Brewing in Geneva, NY, has been using an American wheat ale and riesling grape juice to create War Horse Riesling Ale. In wider distribution this year from MolsonCoors will be Blue Moon Vintage Blonde Ale. The 2011 beer is part of the Brewer’s Reserve Series and is being brewed with Chardonnay grape juice. The beer already has chalked up a gold medal from the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.
Belgian brewer Cantillon makes two beers that are married with wine grapes. Cantillon St. Lamvinus is a 2-year-old lambic fermented in former Bordeaux barrels with the addition of merlot grapes. The beer is produced just once a year with a limit supply of 750 ml bottles imported to the U.S. Cantillon Gueuze Vigneronne is an ale base with muscat grapes added. The aging of this ale takes place in new oak barrels for three months and it is blended with more gueuze at the time of bottling.
In California, at least two San Diego-area craft brewers have used grapes as part of one-time release offerings. Stone 10.10.10 Vertical Epic Ale was a complex Belgian-style strong pale ale made for release in 2010 that had a blend of muscat, gewurztraminer and sauvignon blanc grape juice added during the second fermentation. In celebrating its 21st anniversary in 2010, Karl Strauss Brewing made a Belgian-style strong ale with the juice of old vine zinfandel grapes. The brewery aged the beer for just a month so the oak would not overpower the subtle pepper notes of the grapes.
As more consumers experience the flavors of Belgian-style ales and the makers of both sour ales and wheat beers experiment with new fruit combinations, it is likely we will see more grape-flavored beers hit retail shelves. This may be especially true in regions of the country with winemaking traditions. It just might be that your next beer will have been plucked from a vine.