Brewing a fine vintage


It takes a lot of beer to make a great wine, or so the story goes.

It's a reference to the preference of winemakers and the people who help them do so, for a few beers, rather than wines, after a hard day's yakka.

The reverse is not the case for brewers and their offsiders, they drink what they make.

Which in the United States includes a growing number of hybrid beers aimed at appealing to the tastes of drinkers on either side of the fence.

What the brewers borrow from winemaking is not the wine itself.

Some use wine barrels to age the beers they make.

Others use wine yeast strains, grapes, juice, or the pulpy mix that falls to the bottom during the fermentation process: bits of grape skin, seed fragments and dead yeast cells.

It is known as must, which is disposed of by most wineries.

What the brewers who use it do is mix it with their beers and age the unholy alliance in used wine barrels, allowing the flavours of the grape must and the wine previously absorbed by the wooden barrel to inter-marry.

These hybrids, so- called, are not new.

They actually hark back to the way people drank in ancient Egypt and China according to archaeologists who analysed the yellowish residue found on bronze vats, jugs and drinking bowls unearthed from what is claimed to be King Midas' tomb in central Turkey.

The residue was from a beverage made using barley, grapes and honey, a discovery which encouraged one American brewer in 1999 to craft a beer containing muscat grapes, honey and saffron.

And so it continues.

Another company has recently released an ale with a hint of melon and a distinctly white winey taste that it owes to chardonnay; a red, also with a winelike character but with a tart and spicy finish courtesy cabernet franc.

It is this ability of fermented grapes to produce interesting and complex tastes and aromas which has made them a natural choice for brewers looking for a new way to express their creativity and to poach customers from the opposition.

The question is:

Will winemakers respond by attempting to hybrid wines that will appeal to beer drinkers?

I think and hope not.

However, Birra del Borga, an Italian brewer is conducting a what it calls "a new experiment on the wine meets beer theme" by mixing malvasia must (25 per cent) with beer and, using Champagne yeasts, bottle-fermenting it as you would Champagne.

Even more wine, in appearance anyway, is another of the company's brews that is a 50/50 blend of a saison (farmhouse) beer and sangiovese red wine must.

You might, like me, prefer to stick with some of these:

Alpha Domus 2012 The Barnstormer Hawke's Bay Syrah, $32
A comparatively recent addition to the squadron of wines with an aeroplane on the label. And an excellent example of this variety, too, given the difficulty of the vintage. Plenty of black fruit, plum, pepper and spice that washes effortlessly across the palate.

Forrest 2013 Marlborough Pinot Gris, $22
One of the picks of the bunch from the Forrest's (John and Brigid's) latest releases. And one that could already have earned a mention. But just in case . . . it's a lovely, luscious, medium-dry wine with pears and honey and florals all featuring in the mix.

Sacred Hill 2013 Marlborough Pinot Noir, $20
This winery's popular orange label series of wines is noted for delivering value-for-money wines. In this case, very good value-for- money wines given the vintage in Marlborough. This one is an appealing mix of berries and cherries with a touch of spice. Ready to pour.

Woollaston 2012 Nelson Pinot Gris, $23
Haven't tried it yet? Then you must if you enjoy a generous pinot gris that smacks to one degree or another of stonefruit, honey and exotic florals; that finishes dry and leaves a warm and satisfying taste on the tongue.

The Southland Times