Article

The Intersection of Wine and Beer

Many brewers are first drawn to homebrewing for the creativity and experimentation involved, and one of the easiest ways to add a new dimension to an already-understood style of beer is adding fruit. If one looks at the evolution of the craft beer market, this seems to be an instinct brewers turn to again and again. Yet grapes, despite being the basis for another alcoholic beverage that I would describe as at least relatively popular, historically speaking, have never seemed to find their way into beer as often as one might expect.

Perhaps this omission was, in a roundabout way, a sort of showing of respect. Wine’s pedigree needs no real explanation, and beer and wine have always felt — for better or worse — as if they’ve been designated their own particular cultural cachet. But as craft brewers have demonstrated that beer can match wine for sophistication, it was perhaps inevitable that the two beverages would unite in the fermenter as well.

Co-Fermentation

The uptick of beer brewers experimenting with wine grapes in recent years seems to be tied to another rising trend in the wider world of fermentation: Co-fermentation. While the practice has begun to impact all types of fermentation, it was popularized in the wine industry. Historically, particularly in France’s Rhône region, wine grapes were often simply gathered by the bunch, and rather than separating by variety, were fermented all together as a single field blend. Generally seen as an alternative to blending post-fermentation, the resulting co-fermented wine was prized for its uniquely melded character. But the practice can be extended beyond wine as well. Looking at the process in terms of beer fermenting alongside grapes, this may not seem like a drastic departure from simply adding fruit to beer in a secondary vessel, but the differences in timing and fermentation conditions add up to a richer, markedly varied character.

Co-fermentation is vital to properly representing the quality and unique characteristics of a wine grape, says Jeremy Grinkey, production manager at Bruery Terreux in Anaheim, California. An offshoot brand of The Bruery, Bruery Terreux specializes in wild ales, and has produced a wide spectrum of unorthodox experiments over the years. Grinkey, who had previously worked in the wine industry, has overseen a wide variety of wine-beer hybrids during his time as production manager at Bruery Terreux.

Co-fermenting crushed grapes (also called must) with your base beer to create a new-age beer-wine hybrid is a melding of the two beverages.

“Wine grapes should be respected and used in a conscious manner,” says Grinkey. “I was told long ago by a good friend to make what you like, so that’s what I do. If I’m drinking a wine, say Syrah, for months and having a relationship studying that grape, then I tend to want to work with it. I’ll start conceptualizing exactly what I think will need to be done to make that grape shine through the beer. I don’t want a grape beer, I want a beer-wine hybrid and want that Syrah to be respected by the beer portion and I want it to be varietally noticeable.”

For Grinkey, it’s his relationship with a particular grape that begins to shape his goals for a wine-beer hybrid — and he believes that relationship should begin as early in the process as possible. “We tend to contract our wine grapes and have a say in how it’s farmed and when it’s picked,” Grinkey says. “Having some control of sugar, pH, and cropping is extremely important to making a quality product. We don’t want to be lucky, we want to execute to the concept.”

Of course, Bruery Terreux has access to resources that the average homebrewer does not — but high-quality grapes can be found from vineyards outside of typical “wine regions” and in the case there isn’t one within a drive from where you live, numerous suppliers sell grapes or pressed  grape juice online. Spend a little time searching the internet and you should find a handful of suppliers who will ship fresh or frozen grapes, juice, concentrate, or puree (for more on using puree, see the sidebar at the end of this story). If you are lucky enough to live in a region with local wineries, then forming a relationship with a local winemaker is an excellent way to gain access to both information and quality fruit.

Sourcing Local Grapes

I worked as Head Brewer of Kent Falls Brewing in Kent, Connecticut until summer 2018. During my four years there, we embraced the bounty of local agriculture in northwestern Connecticut at every opportunity. While we produced a wide variety of styles, wild ales and saisons were a focal point for our efforts, and the beers we felt were best able to capture the agricultural spirit of the brewery. We worked with farmers within a 50-mile radius of the brewery as frequently as possible, often heading out into the fields ourselves to harvest and get a hands-on sense of the fruit we’d be using and the place it came from. Rob Bollard, who worked alongside me as an Assistant Brewer for several years and has since taken over the role of Head Brewer, had connections with a local winery, Maywood, that was growing a wide variety of fruit in addition to several grape varieties. 

I’ve always felt that beers are more memorable when there’s a story behind them. When we realized that we had a close connection to a local winery, we began discussing how we could capture this relationship in a beer. For Bollard, many of these wine-beer hybrids produced at Kent Falls held a deeply personal significance.

“I spent a lot of summers working the property when I was younger,” Bollard says. “I would spend a lot of my time in the vineyard aiding the estate’s winemaker. We would train, prune, and strip leaves from the grapevines.  The Maywood vineyard is only about 3 acres, and I remember being amazed by how much labor is required to yield a workable crop.”

Wild ales were the recipient of a lot of our creative energy at Kent Falls, so we felt that a mixed culture saison would be the best home for grapes, as the fruit itself would naturally serve as a source of wild microbes. There would be a thematic significance to this as well, since a lot of the information brewers had access to regarding Brettanomyces and wild yeast, at least in the early years of craft beer, came from the wine industry. Winemakers had been notoriously concerned about Brett infections, and had thus invested a great deal of money and time researching the wild yeast found on grapeskins for the purposes of quality control. Now, of course, we would be turning that on its head, and embracing those same wild yeast as a new source of microbial diversity.

After discussing timing and quantities, we determined that we’d base a small batch wild ale around grape must (crushed grapes) that we’d be sourcing from Maywood. Our recipe would be loose and somewhat improvised in nature, since rather than industrial drums or carefully weighed sacks of fruit puree, our fruit would be arriving in the very unscientifically measured metric of “several buckets” of crushed grapes.

Grape must is essentially the winemaking equivalent of a brewer’s mash, a mixture of crushed fruit containing the desired juice as well as skins, seeds, and some of the stems. Alongside the must we received from Maywood were a few extra buckets of pomace (the stuff that is left after the juice is pressed off the must — skins, seeds, stems — akin to spent grain in the brewing process). Since most of the sugar is removed with the pressed juice, pomace is limited in its uses, though the skins of the grape still contain a good amount of character. 

When our buckets of freshly-crushed Cabernet Sauvignon grapes arrived at the brewery we discovered our grape must also contained rice hulls mixed in with the crushed skins, which the winemakers had added to help juice extraction. The whole mix of must, pomace, and rice hulls went into the fermenter before transferring the wort on top of it.

Since pomace is a by-product of the winemaking process, any winery that presses their own grapes will likely have plenty of it after harvest season, and many of them will be happy to pass it on to an opportunistic brewer. Just as a brewer is usually thrilled to find someone willing to put their spent grain to good use, a winemaker doesn’t want to see their flavorful grapeskins go to waste. Must may be harder to come by, but some winemakers will have enough that they’ll be willing to sell a small amount of must or juice. And of course, as with any type of fruit, there’s always the option to simply buy packaged and sterilized juice from a specialty supplier.

Since we had planned to co-ferment our farmhouse ale directly on the fruit — stems, seeds, rice hulls, and all, but were uncertain exactly how much grape character our buckets of must and pomace would impart, we aimed to embrace the wild, co-fermented side of the beer and strike out for a lighter flavor profile, focused as much on fermentation character as fruit. This was probably for the best, as we were using a limited amount of actual juice, and pomace will not impart as much overt grape character. Many of the beers we produced at Kent Falls had this goal: Lighter, nuanced, and fermentation-driven, given ample time to age and develop even when fermented in stainless rather than barrels. The result showed off not only the nuances of Maywood’s Cabernet grapes, but their microbes as well.

Of course, many brewers may want their wine-beer hybrids to taste like, well, both. Pomace may be the easiest to obtain from a small local winery, but since pomace lends itself to a subtler flavor profile, using exclusively grape must or whole fruit will often be the best approach if one wishes to embrace the full flavors of both grape and grain.

When it comes to choosing the grape variety, the options are endless, but each will impart a different character. The strategy taken by Chris Basso of Newburgh Brewery in Newburgh, New York is straightforward and effective: Figure out what grows well in your region, then find a farm with plenty of it.

“Go to a tasting room and talk to someone,” Basso recommends. “Talk to the farmers, the winemakers. Ask them: ‘what do you have a lot of?’”

Base Beer Styles

Embracing the philosophy of using what’s there, Newburgh Brewing has released a wine-beer hybrid every year for the last five years. In previous years, Basso had designed a Belgian tripel-inspired beer modeled around the grape that seemed to grow most plentifully at nearby farms: Niagara grapes, which he sourced from Magnanini Winery in Wallkill, New York. Basso doubled down on Niagara grapes, known for their stereotypical grape aromas and pungent floral terpene notes, by marrying this local variety with a Belgian-style tripel fermented with a yeast that throws off just enough spice to balance out the sweeter, juicier flavor notes.

But for the 2018 harvest season, Basso decided to try something new.

“Brut IPA had been in the zeitgeist, so we’d talked about making one,” Basso says. “We felt it would be cooler to wait for the grape harvest in the fall to do something a little different.”

For the Belgian tripel-inspired beer Basso crafted in previous years, they had boiled down the grape juice itself to a syrup, adding it as brewers would typically add candi sugar to boost the ABV. But for the brut IPA, Basso decided to try co-fermenting on the fruit itself.

In keeping with the theme, Basso selected a sparkling Prosecco yeast to pitch, rather than the house ale yeast that they typically use for IPAs. Amyloglucosidase (AMG) was added to the mash to ensure a highly fermentable wort — one of the signature attributes of the brut IPA style is its extreme dryness, and AMG is key to achieving this — though Basso points out that many brewers are also adding AMG in the fermenter as well, and he recommends taking this extra step if one desires an end product with zero residual sugar.

Some brewers might flinch at the thought of fermenting a clean IPA on whole fruit, likely teeming with microbes, but Basso says he wasn’t concerned due to the extensive hopping and the extreme dryness of the finished product. Any bacteria, he says, were likely out-competed early on in fermentation, and the wild yeast on the grapes would only add a unique dimension, if they showed through at all.

“If there is any wild yeast on the grapes you might actually find something interesting, but you have to trust your source,” Basso says.

For a quick turnaround beer like an IPA, Basso recommends adding extra yeast nutrient to ensure a healthy fermentation, especially if a high percentage of the sugars in your recipe are coming from grapes, since fruit won’t supply as rich an environment for the yeast to feast upon as wort alone will. But for a wild ale designed for extended aging, this likely won’t be an issue — in fact, a slower fermentation will be ideal for capturing a complex and nuanced profile, as an extended fermentation will give the slower, less developed wild yeast found on the grapes more opportunity to shine through.

Recipes for beers like these do not need to be complicated. Most of the brewers I talked to were of the same mind: Keep the recipe simple and let the ingredients do their thing. For Newburgh’s brut IPA, Basso kept the grain bill to just Pilsner malt, and hopped the beer with GalaxyTM for its complementary fruity notes, as well as Cascade and LemondropTM to bring a touch of brightness to the end product. For the wild ales I brewed at Kent Falls, I liked to work with a similar grain bill: Usually just Pilsner malt with a body-enhancing grain like wheat or spelt mixed in for a bit of complexity and mouthfeel. 

Of course, the base recipe can get more adventurous too, but you as the brewer will have to know the grapes you’re working with well to ensure that one aspect of the hybrid isn’t lost. At Bruery Terreux, Grinkey has seemingly dabbled with a bit of everything, and has even created wine-beer hybrids with a rich, high-ABV stout base.

“A Cabernet grape can stand up to a stout, but a Pinot Noir grape, on the other hand, cannot. It’s far too delicate,” Grinkey says. “So understanding the wines that are made from the grapes will help you decide how to make a beer base that’s complementary rather than contrasting.”

As with beer, there’s one surefire way to develop enough familiarity with a style or variety to know how to work with it in your own creations: Drink it, experience it, and learn from it.

“My thought is, we all drink a lot of beer before we start brewing and learning,” Grinkey says. “Find a wine that you like and start planning on how to make that with beer.”

A Sense of Place

In recent years, more and more brewers are turning to the same factor that has always set wine apart: A sense of place. Breweries were once associated with factories churning out anonymous liquid, while wineries that make wine with their estate-grown grapes are thought of as the small, independent beverage producers tied to the land and the characteristics of a region. Now, of course, that’s no longer the case: We’re all fermenting liquids that seek to capture the essence of where we live and work. Co-fermenting a beer on wine grapes is a fantastic way to represent that sense of place in a liquid, but such a union necessarily starts with the people and places those ingredients originate from. If there are wineries in your area, they should be your first stop when designing such a project.

A brewer and winemaker have plenty of common ground. Working with local grapes allows you to share a local flavor in a different format. It breaks down the barriers between different beverages and might even get other people thinking about agriculture products and fermentation.

Tips for Brewing with Grape Puree from Magic Hat Head Brewer Christopher Rockwood

Through our trials at Magic Hat (South Burlington, Vermont) we have worked with fresh pressed grape must, concentrated grape must, and a puree. Through these iterations the character has been very similar. The puree does lend itself to a fuller flavor profile as you are still working with skin material and that will impart more of a tannic character to the finished beer. When working with a puree or a concentrate it is imperative to know the storage condition of the product before you are using it. If it is not preserved properly (sulfites or frozen), natural wild yeast present on the grapes can begin fermentation; producing strong notes of sulfur in the finished beer.

If you are choosing to use puree, implementation in the process will be similar to grape must. Co-fermentation is a good way to deal with the fermentable sugars present in the puree. You will need to be familiar with your yeast strain of choice and its ability to handle large amounts of glucose. If your yeast struggles with glucose, you may consider a secondary fermentation addition of the puree with a fresh pitch of wine or Champagne yeast to finish the fermentation. We have had the most success with our house strain introducing the must/concentrate/puree 24 hours after knockout. 

The biggest difference between varietal character in comparing purees to fresh grapes will appear when using white varietals. The basic flavors you would expect from a white varietal will appear whether you use must or puree; however, the tannic character may shift the flavor profile a bit. Beyond that, vintners finishing techniques may also shift the flavors you expect; i.e. Chardonnay is often oak aged and in the absence of interacting with the oak, you may be missing something you associate with the varietal.

Style and goals are critical when it comes to usage rates. If you are going for a strong varietal expression, you can lean on the heavy end (40–49% of the total amount of fermentable sugar). If you are looking to simply enhance the flavors of a beer, a minor addition of 3–5% of the total fermentable sugars can achieve that goal. Given that we are talking about fermentable sugar percentages when determining addition rates and not a volume ratio, it is important to know the gravity of your puree or must before getting started. 

 When it comes to choosing between must or puree, let your flavor goals be the biggest deciding factor. For a full-bodied red (think Merlot or Marquette), you may find that puree can provide a more rounded flavor profile that suits the project best. 

Kent Falls Brewing Co.’s When Life Gives You Grape Must clone

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG* = 1.048  FG = 1.000
IBU = 10  SRM* = 3  ABV = 6%

*Both the original gravity and SRM are numbers provided pre-grape addition. If you want to recheck the actual starting gravity, Kent Falls recommends taking a gravity reading from the fermenter after the grapes and wort have had time to incorporate, but prior to the onset of primary fermentation.

Ingredients
9 lbs. (4.1 kg) Pilsner malt
10 oz. (0.28 kg) white wheat malt
2 lbs. (0.9 kg) Cabernet Sauvignon grape pomace
1 lb. (0.45 kg) Cabernet Sauvignon grape must
2 AAU Brewer’s Gold hops (60 min.) (0.25 oz./7 g at 8% alpha acids)
6 AAU Brewer’s Gold hops (0 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 8% alpha acids)
Wyeast 3711 (French Saison) or White Labs WLP590 (French Saison Ale), or LalBrew Belle Saison yeast
3⁄4 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step
Brewing protocol should follow your standard protocol for any light style beer. Mash at 152 °F (67 °C) for 60 minutes. Collect enough wort in the kettle for a 60-minute boil. 

Add grape pomace (grape solids left after pressing) and grape must (crushed grapes) to fermenter before transferring wort. Add the last hop addition at the end of the boil and whirlpool for 15 minutes prior to cooling to fermentation temperature. Chill wort then transfer wort onto the grape must and pomace. Pitch yeast and aerate well. Ferment at 74–78 °F (23–26 °C) until gravity is stable. Upon hitting terminal gravity, age for an additional two weeks before packaging. Due to the large amount of particulate found in pomace and must, transferring to a secondary vessel for the final two weeks of aging may be helpful for achieving clarity.

Kent Falls Brewing Co.’s When Life Gives You Grape Must clone

(5 gallons/19 L, extract only)
OG = 1.048  FG = 1.000
ABV = 6%  IBU = 10  SRM = ~6

Ingredients
5.5 lbs. (2.5 kg) extra light dried malt extract
8 oz. (0.23 kg) wheat dried malt extract
8 oz. (0.23 kg) table sugar
2 lbs. (0.9 kg) Cabernet Sauvignon grape pomace
1 lb. (0.45 kg) Cabernet Sauvignon grape must
2 AAU Brewer’s Gold hops (60 min.) (0.25 oz./7 g at 8% alpha acids
6 AAU Brewer’s Gold hops (0 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 8% alpha acids)
Wyeast 3711 (French Saison) or White Labs WLP590 (French Saison Ale), or LalBrew Belle Saison yeast
3⁄4 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step
Heat 4 gallons (15 L) of water in your kettle up to 180 °F (82 °C) and turn off heat. Stir in the malt extracts and table sugar and continue stirring until everything is fully dissolved. Turn heat back on and bring to a boil. Boil for 60 minutes, adding hops according to the hop schedule. 

Add grape pomace (grape solids left after pressing) and grape must (crushed grapes) to fermenter before transferring wort. Add the last hop addition at the end of the boil and whirlpool for 15 minutes prior to cooling to fermentation temperature. Chill wort then top off kettle with water to 5 gallons (19 L). Transfer chilled wort onto the grape must and pomace. Pitch yeast and aerate well. Ferment at 74–78 °F (23–26 °C) until gravity is stable. Upon hitting terminal gravity, age for an additional two weeks before packaging. Due to the large amount of particulate found in pomace and must, transferring to a secondary vessel for the final two weeks of aging may be helpful for achieving clarity.

Newburgh Brewing Co.’s BrutBoss clone

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG* = 1.046  FG = 1.000
ABV = 5.5%  IBU = ~30  SRM* = 3

Both the original gravity and SRM are numbers provided pre-grape addition. If you want to check the actual starting gravity, take a gravity reading from the fermenter after the grapes and wort have had time to incorporate, but prior to the onset of primary fermentation

Ingredients
9 lbs. (4.1 kg) Pilsner malt
1 gallon (4 L) Niagara grape must
1 oz. (28 g) Cascade hops (0 min.)
2 oz. (57 g) LemondropTM hops (whirlpool)
4 oz. (113 g) GalaxyTM hops (dry hop)
2 oz. (57 g) LemondropTM hops (dry hop)
Amylo enzyme (dosage rate per manufacturer’s instructions)
Lalvin EC-1118 or Red Star Premier Cuvée or Wyeast 4021 (Dry White/Sparking) yeast
7⁄8 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step
Mash at 145 °F (63 °C) for 60 minutes, adding the Amylo enzyme at the start of the mash. After 60 minutes perform a starch conversion test. You may want to raise the mash temperature up to 158 °F (70 °C) for 15 minutes to make sure the enzymes finish their job. Sparge with enough water to collect roughly 5.5 gallons (21 L) of wort in the kettle. Boil for 60 minutes. 

Add grape must (crushed grapes) to fermenter before transferring wort. Add the last hop addition at the end of the boil and whirlpool for 15 minutes prior to cooling to fermentation temperature. Chill wort then transfer onto the grape must. Pitch yeast and aerate well. Ferment at 74–78 °F (23–26 °C) until gravity is stable. Upon hitting terminal gravity, age for an additional two weeks before packaging. Due to the large amount of particulate found in must, transferring to a secondary vessel for the final two weeks of aging may be helpful for achieving clarity.

Newburgh Brewing Co.’s BrutBoss clone

(5 gallons/19 L, extract only)
OG = 1.046  FG = 1.000
ABV = 5.5%  IBU = ~30  SRM = 3

Ingredients
6 lbs. (2.7 kg) extra light dried malt
1 extract
8 oz. (0.23 kg) table sugar
1 gallon (4 L) Niagara grape must
1 oz. (28 g) Cascade hops (0 min.)
2 oz. (57 g) LemondropTM hops (whirlpool)
4 oz. (113 g) GalaxyTM hops (dry hop)
2 oz. (57 g) LemondropTM hops (dry hop)
Amylo enzyme (dosage rate per manufacturer’s instructions)
Lalvin EC-1118 or Red Star Premier Cuvée or Wyeast 4021 (Dry White/Sparking) yeast
7⁄8 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step
Begin with 4 gallons (11 L) of water in the kettle. Heat to 180 °F (82 °C) then turn off heat and stir in the dried malt extract, sugar, and Amylo enzyme. Bring wort to a boil and boil for 15 minutes. 

Add grape must (crushed grapes) to fermenter before transferring wort. Add the last hop addition at the end of the boil and whirlpool for 15 minutes prior to cooling to fermentation temperature. 

Chill wort then transfer wort onto the grape must. Pitch yeast and aerate well. Ferment at 74–78 °F (23–26 °C) until gravity is stable. Upon hitting terminal gravity, age for an additional two weeks before packaging. Due to the large amount of particulate found in must, transferring to a secondary vessel for the final two weeks of aging may be helpful for achieving clarity.

Tips for success:
You have the option of adding the Amylo in the mash, boil, or in the fermenter. Newburgh Head Brewer Basso says, “If you want it very dry I suggest use in the mash. If you want it completely dry with zero residual sugars then I think using in the fermenter would be best. We actually use it in the mash for a very dry result, but we think it’s a better beer than if it went to 0 °Plato.”