Beer then wine, you'll be fine
July 09 2015
Remember the old adage ‘never mix grape and grain’?
For three years running we’ve taken a perverse pleasure in challenging this taboo with a series of wine inspired beers celebrating the grape harvest.
If you find the idea of wine beer challenging, then perhaps it’s best to think of these brews as fruit beers… just fruit beers made with grapes. Does that make it feel better?
With each beer we’ve taken the basic idea of infusing each batch of wort (the brewed liquid that will become beer) with freshly crushed grape juice and then fermenting the two together. The result is much more than just wine added to beer. The fermented comingling of the two liquids is truly an illicit tryst, all the more intense by its forbidden nature – almost like a romance between the offspring of feuding families.
For our first harvest we brewed Sauvin Nouveau, a pilsner wort, extravagantly hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops, and then ferment with freshly pressed Sauvignon Blanc juice from Martinborough’s wonderful Palliser Estate. Maybe it was wrong, but it felt so right - so right in fact that the following year we brewed it again, and added the Pinot Noir inspired Château Aro, a dark rubescent beer, brewed with not only the freshly crushed juice but also the skins of pinot noir grapes from the award winning Escarpment Winery.
For the 2015 vintage, Sauvin Nouveau is back. Château Aro is too, but this year’s vintage has been tucked away in freshly emptied Escarpment oak pinot barrels, to be seen again at a later date.
But this year I also wanted to try one more brew. Now I’ll premise this by saying that I am very fond of this beer, but it is imperfect. The idea was to create a Rosé inspired beer – a pale pilsner, brewed with the same hop variety we used for our Hop Trial No. 1, infused with Pinot juice and rested on the red Pinot skins for 48 hours, enough time to lend the brew a pink hue, but not the tannins associated with longer contact with the skins.
It was a beautiful plan. In practice, after running in the wort and Pinot juice there was bugger all room left in the tank for all the skins we’d planned to add, so with beer gushing out of the top of the tank we crammed in what we could and had to call it quits.
So the result is not quite what I had envisaged – the colour change from pale pilsner was wonderful, but only to the point that is described in rosé parlance as ‘onion skin’ orange with a light blush of pink in the foam. I’d hoped for a richer hue, perhaps a light rose petal pink. However, any disappointment is tempered by the delightful crisp citrus and strawberry notes of the beer itself.
Brewing is full of lessons. Next year more skins… and a bigger tank.