Grape Ale: Pyment’s beery cousin

Originating in Italy as Italian grape ale, this style was introduced in the 2015 Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines as a local style to Italy. Other grape-producing areas around the world learned of this style and began experimenting with their own variations using non-Italian grapes but a similar method. In the 2021 BJCP Guidelines, Italian grape ale remains in the appendix as a local style at the request of the Italians, but a broader style was introduced to the fruit beer category, grape ale. This style takes elements of wine and beer and combines them in a single beverage that can express the terroir of worldwide viticulture.

Combining grapes with other beverages is not something new, nor is combining multiple types of alcoholic beverages. Meadmakers have long made pyment, a hybrid of mead and wine; and braggot, a hybrid of mead and beer. Historical beverages other than wine certainly included grapes as part of the fermentables. But this modern grape ale is a newer phenomenon from the modern craft beer era. Its name is meant to be descriptive, but it sometimes causes confusion with those unfamiliar with the style.

A grape ale is a kind of fruit beer, but it’s not just any type of beer with grapes. The base beer and the kind of grapes are somewhat restricted — the base beer is generally neutral, and the grapes are wine-type grapes (red or white). A grape ale is not a beer with wine-like character, such as a Flanders red, which is sometimes described that way (especially by Michael Jackson). It is not a beer using grape-derived products such as Phantasm, that add grape character to beer. It’s not a beer having wine-associated hop character from thiol-rich hops such as Nelson Sauvin or Hallertauer Blanc. It’s not a sour beer with some kind of grape content. And finally, it is not some kind of historical beer that used grapes as some of the fermentables.

Grape ale is style 29D in the 2021 BJCP Style Guidelines. Italian grape ale is present as style X3, a local Italian style. Compare the two for an understanding of how the style has been broadened beyond using just the local Italian grape varieties. Note, however, that the style parameters for them were developed using an analysis of commercially available Italian grape ale examples.


I’ve summarized the history in the introduction section, describing how the style evolved beyond its Italian roots to the modern style that is still developing today in other winemaking regions of the world (including the United States). As a developing style, it is still likely to change in the future as more examples are produced and commercial brewers coalesce around common ideas that work.

A grape ale is a kind of fruit beer, but it’s not just any type of beer with grapes.

The original Italian grape ale style is generally considered to have begun in Italy around 2006 when producers Birrificio Barley and Birrificio Montegioco produced early examples. Ironically, the Birrificio Barley example, BB10, was based on imperial stout. The modern Italian grape ale style description (written by Italians to promote the style) specifically excludes beers with a roasted character from the style. Yet, it was one of the first examples and helped start the trend.

Other breweries began experimenting with the concept and the style began to develop. I enter the picture in 2014, when I was in Ireland conducting a BJCP exam. One of the examinees was Gianriccardo Corbo, who I later learned was leading an Italian beer movement seeking to recognize the style. They had developed an early draft of the guidelines that they provided to me for consideration for the forthcoming 2015 Style Guidelines.

My initial reaction was that it sounded like a fruit beer and that commercial examples were not widely available. However, the Italians were adamant about wine grapes not being a fruit since people didn’t eat them that way, and that wine was an important part of their culture. While the BJCP is not involved in promoting the beer industry in different countries, it did seem to be a style that was produced and that was appearing in local competitions. So, as part of including similar submissions from Argentina for local products that their competitions used, I took this as an emerging style that wasn’t part of the main section of the guidelines.

Subsequent to the publication in the 2015 Style Guidelines, the style continued to evolve and Corbo continued to enhance their guidelines. On trips to South America and elsewhere, I began to see more examples of the style, including one trip to Brazil where I helped create a collaboration batch of this beer with a local brewery. Other countries in Europe expressed interest in their own versions using non-Italian grapes. So I was faced with creating a profusion of local styles or building a more generic style encompassing them all. This is the style that appears in the 2021 Style Guidelines. But since the Italian version has a strong following locally, it remains as a separate local style for their use while the rest of the world continues developing their versions.

Sensory Profile

A grape ale has elements of both wine and beer present and noticeable. The grape character has a dry, fermented quality like wine, not a sweet juice character like a breakfast drink. The beer character is relatively neutral, but has enough of a malt presence to distinguish the grape ale from a wine alone. The product is well carbonated, which makes the impression seem more related to a sparkling wine.

Grape ale can utilize red or white grapes, with all the various fruity and sometimes spicy notes present in wines based on the same grape varieties. The malt is typically just pale, Pilsner, or wheat malt, with very limited use of pale crystal malts. Darker malts are not used. The use of other fruits to add fruitiness is not appropriate in this style; that type of beer would be a fruit beer with grape ale as the base style. Since the base beer is relatively pale, the color is driven mostly by the grape variety used.

Having some wine knowledge helps when judging this style, since certain wine grape varieties are well known and have very expressive characters. Red grapes often have flavors of darker fruit (blackberries, cherries, etc.) while white grapes often have lighter flavors like melon, peach, apricot, pear, and such. Paler grapes can often be quite floral, while darker grapes may have some more rustic and earthy notes. It is very hard to generalize solely on the color of the grape; the varieties of grapes used and where they were grown play the largest roles in determining the character.

Bitterness in this style is fairly low, typically, since grapes have some natural acidity that provides balance. The beer is normally quite dry, like most fine wines, and has a sparkling character. A grape ale should not have a wild or strongly tart character just as a wine would not normally have the same. A grape ale with that kind of character would fit better in one of the American wild styles, such as 28C wild specialty beer.

The yeast character can be neutral, or bring fruity and/or spicy notes. Likewise, the hop character can take on many forms, but is usually floral or fruity. Both the yeast and the hops should combine well with the grape character — most of the skill in making this style involves deftly pairing the grape with the beer ingredients. As wine might be oaked, this style can see some wood character. However, most do not have this feature, since the oak can easily dominate the aromatics and flavor — an undesirable outcome.

The grape ale can be refreshing to complex in character and normally is quite aromatic. While both wine and beer character are present, the best examples have a very well-integrated flavor profile. The beer elements should not dominate the wine character, so hopping is often restrained, especially in the flavor dimension. The beer can have a wide range of alcohol strengths. Most are in the 6 to 8.5% ABV range, but commercial examples exist from 4 to 12%.

Brewing Ingredients and Methods

The beer is normally prepared with typical methods, and the grape juice is added after the wort is produced and chilled, but before the yeast is introduced. The beer and wine components are fermented together, not separately. The percentage of grape juice used can vary quite a bit, from 15–20%, to upwards of 40%. This is determined by volume in the fermenter, so the base beer recipe should be calculated for an amount that assumes the addition of a known quantity of grape juice. Also note that wine grape juice often contains high levels of sugar. Gravity readings of 1.090 to 1.110 are common in wine regions where full ripeness is achieved.

The grape ale can be refreshing to complex in character and normally is quite aromatic

The base beer is based on pale or lightly kilned malts such as Pilsner or pale ale malt, with wheat and sometimes light crystal malts involved. Mash programs that produce a somewhat attenuative wort are desired, since a heavily dextrinous beer would hurt the drinkability. The grape juice is often fresh, especially when using higher percentages. If the juice is concentrated, smaller percentages are used. The availability of fresh juice often makes grape beer a seasonal product since it is dependent on when grapes are harvested and processed. Red or white grape varieties can be used, or blends of grapes can be chosen.

The hops can vary widely, but should be selected with care so as to blend well with the chosen grape variety. Most have fruity or floral notes. Those hops that are overly wine-like might tend to dominate the grapes themselves. Those hops with dank, vegetal, or overly sulfury notes might not combine well with the grapes.

Beer or wine yeast can be chosen, often with the wine yeast being paired with the grape variety. Belgian, English, or neutral American yeast strains may be used. As with hops, the pairing of the aromatics from the yeast have to be done carefully to complement the selected grape varieties.

A variety of options are available for maturing and conditioning the grape ale. It can be packaged young, it can be aged on the yeast for additional complexity (a winemaking process known as aging sur lie), it can be lagered like beer to smooth out the profile, or it can be barrel-aged for some additional character. The choices are more like those a winemaker would consider than a brewer.

Homebrew Example

This example is based on the version I made with Cervejaria 4 Árvores in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2018. Head Brewer and Owner João Henrique Franco and I worked together to create a beer that matched hops with their local Moscato grape must that was freshly pressed at the time. Since then, the brewery has continued this beer as an annual series with a different type of grape every time, plus some experimental editions with wild fermentation and added fruit.

We selected a neutral base beer somewhat similar to that used for a saison or a Catharina sour: Pilsner malt and wheat malt. A small amount of Carapils® was used for additional head retention. We made this beer late in the grape harvest season, so we selected Moscato grape as one of the only available at the time. I supported this choice because it is a white grape that often makes very nice sparkling wines. He wanted to use a full 40% grape juice, so we did. Note that this is freshly pressed, unconcentrated grape juice without additives, not something that has been boiled. This is added after the wort has been prepared and chilled, so the recipe is for the beer portion of the final product. Since grape juice is higher gravity than the wort, the final ABV will be closer to 7.7%.

We debated several hop options. I liked the use of Amarillo® since I knew it had paired well with things like Belgian IPAs that have a strong fruity character. João wanted to use more than one hop, and suggested Mandarina Bavaria rather than some of the New Zealand hops that I liked, since they were available. When we brewed the beer, I crushed some of the hops and added them to a sample of the Moscato must to see if they worked well together, and the aromatics were quite pleasant indeed. João has also used Cascade and Amarillo® together on other beers to good effect.

One departure we have from the Italian tradition is to dry hop the beer, which I think does have a positive impact on the final profile. Brewers should also note that the bitterness of this beer comes entirely from whirlpool additions of hops, so allowing them to steep for 20 minutes after the boil is critical for the bitterness to be extracted.

Given the high percentage of grape juice, we decided to use the D-47 yeast, which is a widely available wine strain. I had used that in meads previously, and thought it worked well. My preference, the 71B wine yeast I use most when making meads, was unavailable in Brazil. But we both wanted to use a wine yeast.

João also wanted to use the Italian Charmat method to carbonate the beer, which involves a long secondary fermentation in a closed steel tank where the carbon dioxide from fermentation slowly dissolves into the beer. This is a natural way of fermenting the beer and is used in the Italian winemaking industry to produce Prosecco and Asti Spumante, among others. I was happy to use a traditional method that gave a very fine bubble and a high level of carbonation. Another benefit of the long conditioning time is that the beer ages on the yeast, which gives a slightly more complex profile.

I was very pleased with the final result of this collaboration when it was packaged and released. I also am honored that it continues to remain in 4 Árvores’ annual release schedule. It had a very expressive wine character, a bubbly texture, and was dry and refreshing. Exactly what we had hoped for when we designed the beer. If you decide to make this beer, please try to source fresh grape must or juice intended for winemaking in season.

Grape Ale by the Numbers

OG: 1.059–1.075
FG: 1.004–1.013
SRM: 4–8
IBU: 10–30
ABV: 6–8.5%

Grape Ale

copper colored hazy grape ale in teku glassware
Photo courtesy of

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.055 (pre-juice) FG = 1.010 
IBU = 10  SRM = 4  ABV = 7.7%

5 lbs. (2.3 kg) Pilsner malt
1.75 lbs. (794 g) wheat malt
0.4 lbs. (181 g) Carapils® malt
2.1 gal. (8 L) Moscato grape juice, fresh, unconcentrated (21 °Brix = 1.088 SG)
4.6 AAU Amarillo® hops (0 min.)(0.5 oz./14 g at 9.2% alpha acids) 
4.3 AAU Mandarina Bavaria hops (0 min.) (0.5 oz./14 g at 8.5% alpha acids)
2.5 oz. (71 g) Amarillo® hops (dry hop)
2.5 oz. (71 g) Mandarina Bavaria hops (dry hop)
Lalvin D-47 or Lalvin 71B yeast
7⁄8 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Step by Step
This recipe uses reverse osmosis (RO) water. Adjust all brewing water to a pH of 5.5 using phosphoric acid. Add 1 tsp. of calcium chloride to the mash.

This recipe uses an infusion mash. Use enough water to have a moderately thick mash (1.5 qts./lb. or 3.1 L/kg). Mash in the malts at 151 °F (66 °C) and hold for 60 minutes. Raise the temperature to 169 °F (76 °C), and recirculate for 15 minutes.

Sparge slowly and collect 4 gallons (15 L) of wort. Target a pre-boil gravity of about 1.049.

Boil the wort for 60 minutes, adding hops at the end of the boil and allowing them to steep for 20 minutes, stirring the wort gently. Target final volume is 3.2 gallons (12 L) of wort at about 1.055.

Chill the wort to 65 °F (18 °C), then add the grape juice, resulting in a pre-fermentation volume of about 5.25 gallons (20 L) and an OG of about 1.068. Pitch the yeast, and ferment until complete, about 10 days, allowing the temperature to rise as high as 73 °F (23 °C). Dry hop for two days, then remove hops. Rack to secondary at 73 °F (23 °C) and gradually chill over 10 days to 36 °F (2 °C). Racking should result in about 5 gallons (19 L) of finished beer. Cold condition on the yeast for 6–8 months. To learn more on this process and best practices, check out:

If possible (using a container such as a Corny keg that can hold pressure), prime the beer in secondary and allow natural carbonation slowly over time. A slow forced carbonation over a long period of time can replicate this process. Rack and package.

Grape Ale

(5 gallons/19 L, extract only)
OG = 1.055 (pre-juice) FG = 1.010 
IBU = 10  SRM = 4  ABV = 7.7%

4 lbs. (1.8 kg) weizen or wheat dried malt extract
2.1 gal. (8 L) Moscato grape juice, fresh, unconcentrated (21 °Brix = 1.088 SG)
4.6 AAU Amarillo® hops (0 min.) (0.5 oz./14 g at 9.2% alpha acids) 
4.3 AAU Mandarina Bavaria hops (0 min.) (0.5 oz./14 g at 8.5% alpha acids)
2.5 oz. (71 g) Amarillo® hops (dry hop)
2.5 oz. (71 g) Mandarina Bavaria hops (dry hop)
Lalvin D-47 or Lalvin 71B yeast
7⁄8 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Step by Step
Use 4 gallons (15 L) of water in the brew kettle; heat to 158 °F (70 °C). 

Turn off the heat. Add the malt extract and stir thoroughly to dissolve completely. Turn the heat back on and bring to a boil. 

Boil the wort for 60 minutes, adding hops at the end of the boil and allowing them to steep for 20 minutes, stirring the wort gently. Follow the all-grain recipe for post-boil, fermentation, and packaging instructions for the beer.

Issue: November 2022