Wine & Beer Hybrids

In a previous life, I worked a job where I was required to learn about grape and wine varietals. It is part of what inspired me to blur the lines between wine and beer. Knowing the characteristics of grape varietals has helped me, immensely, with choosing the recipes and grapes that will work best. A brewer wants to accentuate the characteristics of the grapes with a grain bill and hop selection that will make the varietal shine.

Beer-Wine hybrids are on the rise in the United States, with breweries like Firestone Walker, Side Project, Allagash, Sierra Nevada, and Trillium creating expressive beers using whole grapes, juice, and must. These breweries understand the subtleties of brewing beer using grapes: how tannins, acidity, and terroir affect the final product.

Respect must be paid to grapes. It isn’t as simple as just selecting a grape and throwing it in with the beer to age. Each grape varietal has unique and distinct characteristics. These properties should be used to inform a brewer on how to approach creating the beer that will be used with the grapes.

Our first beer-wine hybrid was a blended Connecticut Wild Ale we treated to seven pounds of fresh South African Syrah grapes. I chose Syrah because it has some interesting characteristics – it is dominated by notes of peppercorn and black pepper, a very spicy grape with residual sweetness and notes of blueberry, blackberry, and boysenberry. It is why, when creating it, I chose to blend beer from both of our barrels to create a product that would accentuate these notes.

Contact time, I’ve learned as we’ve made more Beer-wine hybrids, varies. There is no set “age X pounds for X amount of time.” Our Syrah Wild Ale saw a 12 week contact time, whereas our Old Vine Aglianico saw 3 weeks. As mentioned earlier, understanding the varietal will help with figuring out contact time. Like grains, some grapes are used for accenting a wine’s grape bill and some are used as a base grape. Knowing how delicate or strong a grape is will help a brewer determine how long contact time should be.

We’re dedicated to further exploring this hybrid style, so much that we’ve created a line of beers, titled Terroir, that will focus solely on exploring the profiles of different grape varietals and grape blends.

Explorations of Winemaking Techniques

I am grateful that to have access to high quality wine grapes. It has allowed me the ability to create beers I would, otherwise, dream of making. Over the past couple of years, I've made three different wine inspired beers with an additional two in the works as of publication of this piece. While the first two were simple - whole grapes in blended sour ale, the third took a twist where I employed Methode Champenoise and treated beer like champagne would. The resulting beer, D'Alliance, hit every aspect of a champagne inspired beer that I was hoping to achieve - dry, bubbly, and bright. My approach towards fermentation, aging, and bottle conditioning shifted radically after tasting that beer and I began researching how I could apply more wine-making processes to what I was doing.

Enter my friend, a professional winemaker. While she was home between harvests, we decided it was the perfect time to see what we come up with combining her skill with wine-making and mine with beer. We did not have the opportunity to brew something together. However, I have a large selection of bulk aging stock to blend from. We spent a couple hours drinking through the cellar stock and she went to town crafting a blend based on her own tastes. The blend was based around a floral batch of young spontaneous beer that's aging. She decided it needed something else, originally playing with the idea of rose petals - but that's near impossible to source at this time of year. We settled on using the leftover wine grapes I had - 15 pounds of 2018 Syrah and 10 pounds of 2019 Chardonnay, with the objective of making this beer come out a vibrant pinkish-red once it's finished.

Let me preface this - any winemaker would have a stroke if they saw these grapes. I pushed the Syrah to its absolute age limit, two months shy of two years in freezing. The Chardonnay was only about three months old, but showing signs of oxidation. Freezing grapes long-term has a very interesting effect on them - their Brix content goes up. These grapes were showing Brix readings higher than when they were fresh. Some juice can also be pushed out of the grapes if you pack it tight enough. So, we had this perfect storm of a situation - high gravity grapes and super concentrated frozen juice.

The Syrah grapes developed a very interesting flavor profile after being frozen so long. Strong notes of leather, tobacco, and ruby port are the easiest descriptors for giving a sense of flavor. We separated all 15lbs of the Syrah grapes from the stems, put a couple of pounds to the side, and, using a colander, gently pressed them to collect the juice. The pressings, combined with the super concentrate, netted us about 48oz of juice. The Chardonnay was still quite spot on to what they were fresh. We separated all the grapes from stems, put a couple of pounds to the side, and again, pressed the remainder to collect the juice. This yielded us about 24oz of juice. After juicing, we took the remaining whole grapes and added them to the carboy. We then added the juice, which was a little over a half gallon. We proceeded to rack the beer blend on top of it and let it sit.

After a couple days of sitting quiet, the beer began to referment aggressively. The massive amount of new sugar added to the beer caused the yeast culture to go nuts and start devouring everything again. On April 11th, 2020, I bottled the beer, a little shy of four months of aging on the grapes.

This beer needed an extended bottle conditioning time. It wasn't ready to drink until August, 2020. The beer is absolutely bone dry, quaffable, with one of the most interesting flavor profiles I've ever encountered in a beer.

Methode Champenois

Part of my fascination with wine and beer and the line between them has taken me on a trip down a rabbit-hole of winemaking techniques and concepts. In my every evolving drive to try new and creative things, I was bound to quickly learn about Methodé Champenoise and how to apply it to beer. Methodé Champenoise is the traditional process in which champagne bottles are conditioned, riddled, and then disgorged to create a vibrantly clear, sparkling final product. Bottles are conditioned horizontally for six to eight weeks, and then the fun begins. Only a few breweries in the country make a Biere de Champagne, and even fewer treat it to the process that is done to champagne.

The brew day and fermentation for this Biere de Champagne was nothing out of the ordinary. The beer is a simple grist of 60/40 Pils / White Wheat, kettle hopped with Nelson and Mandarina Bavaria. It was subsequently fermented at 95ºF, with Omega Yeast Labs’ Hot Heat, for 96 hours before being split into two different wine-study beers. This portion was bottled to 4.5 vols of CO2 and left to condition for three weeks.

Once bottle conditioning was over the bottles were riddled, or rotated and angled, until upside down over the course of three weeks. I hand-rotated these bottles an 1/8 of a turn a day while adjusting the pitch of the case every other day. This process is done to collect all the sediment in the beer’s cap. After this process the bottles were cold crashed down to 39° in a fridge for three weeks, mostly due to time constraints and the ability to acquire dry ice.

On disgorging day, the necks were frozen using a dry ice and grain alcohol solution. This was the easiest way to get a liquid solution at -140°F. Others that have done this have used Acetone instead of grain alcohol. There is an extra step involved with using Acetone, rinsing it off to make the bottles safe for human consumption, and I felt it was best to avoid that. The grain alcohol serves its purpose beautifully, and I can say with 100% certainty that it should be used over Acetone.

For this part, I went overboard with protective gear – a Carhartt jacket, thick waterproof winter gloves, face mask, and scarf around the neck. Freezing glass, pressurized bottles, and beyond freezing liquid are not to be taken lightly. Disgorging is dangerous, and I wouldn’t recommend doing this without proper protection from dangerous temperatures and possibility of exploding bottles.

Each bottle was dunked in the solution for about a minute and a half, enough to freeze the sediment while the beer remains liquid. Once frozen, I quickly removed the bottle, aimed it on an upward angle, and popped the cap. If the freezing step was timed properly, the sediment puck should just shoot out. Otherwise, as what happened a couple of times, the top of the neck needs to be warmed up to loosen it out. The massive amount of pressure will eventually, within a minute or two, push the puck, and some liquid, out.

After the sediment puck was removed, I quickly dosed the bottles with a couple of mL of simple syrup, to account for lost volume, and corked the bottles. Capping to corking needs to be done incredibly quickly, between 5 to 7 seconds total elapsed time per bottle. For corking, I simply used synthetic champagne corks that could be hammered in using a mallet. Saved the hassle of needing the floor corker and having to fiddle with settings to get it into position.

This technique is incredibly unique, time-consuming, and a bit difficult to do. But the results are worth it, even if I only do this once a year. It creates a sparkling and bright final product that will make a great beer to serve at special events and on special occasions. I will be attempting this technique with other styles at some point over the upcoming year, just to see what it can do – maybe a Brut IPA treated to this process will be next.

Recipe:

Method: All Grain
Batch Size: 5.5g
Boil Size: 7g
Boil Time: 60 min

SG: 1.071
OG: 1.092
FG: 1.016

68.8% Belgian Pilsner
31.3% White Wheat
Omega Yeast Labs Hot Head OYL-057

21g Nelson Sauvin at 60m
14g Mandarina Bavaria at 20m
7g Nelson Sauvin at 5m

Turbid Mash Spontaneous Ale: Year 3

Living in Connecticut has a massive perk - four full seasons. More importantly, three of those seasons run cool. Cool nights allow for me to be able to do a coolship, leaving my kettle out overnight to collect yeast. I have done this in mid-Spring, and now have done one to usher in Fall. The ultimate goal is to get a couple more turbid mash brew days done this season so I can start building up a larger stock of spontaneous ale for the future.

Doing a spontaneous ale requires planning. You can't just wake-up and decide you want to do one on any given day. Careful attention must be paid to the weather - you need clear skies and cold temperatures. The optimal temperature range for a coolship is anything below 44ºF overnight. Anything higher, and you risk nasty bacteria getting into your wort. I got lucky on this brew day, with a daytime temperature of about 55-60ºF, I wasn't brewing in the blistering cold with the extended mash and boil I had to do.

Turbid Mashing may seem intimidating to a first timer, but if you've done a decoction, it's no harder than that. At it's most basic, a turbid mash is a step-mash with two decoction pulls of thick, turbid wort that is kept above 176ºF to halt enzymatic production. I, for ease of brew day and lack of a second burner, throw a second kettle inside the kettle that holds my strike water and treat it as a double boiler. The turbid wort in this kettle tends to float around 195-200ºF.

However simple a turbid mash may seem, the complexity comes in if you don't know your system that well. If this is your first time doing one, I'd recommend keeping a couple gallons of cold water on hand in case you need to cut the temperature of your mash.

The Recipe

The recipe for a spontaneous ale, or lambic, is the simplest part of the entire brew process. Recipes traditionally call for unmalted wheat, but I utilize flaked wheat. It's just a bit easier for me to source than unmalted. Spontaneous Ales are a style of beer that represents a place, so if you're able to source locally malted grain, you should. For this recipe, I used Thrall Family Malt Pilsner, grown and malted here in Connecticut. The Flaked Wheat, however, was not local. Hops used were five-year-old locally grown Cascade.

OGFGABVIBUSRMBoil Length
1.061TBDTBD5-ish3.29120
Bill PercentageFermentable
61%Thrall Family Malt Pilsner
39%Weyermann Flaked Wheat
HopTimeAmountIBU
Whole Leaf Cascade (2015)1201.5oz6

This recipe is scaled for 10 gallons to fermenter. However, due to weather conditions being aridly dry and windy - I ended up with a final output of 7 gallons and a starting gravity of 1.061 instead of 1.051. Please be sure to adjust your water additions if you plan on doing 5 gallons.

One note on this process and coolshipping, plan to brew 2-3 gallons more than you want in fermenter, as an extended boil and overnight cool will evaporate more beer than you expect. I had intended to have 10 gallons into fermenter after the brew day was complete, but I got just enough to fill a 6.5 gallon carboy the following morning.

The Process

As I mentioned earlier, turbid mashing has some complexity, but it's less intimidating than it seems. In fact, if it wasn't such a long process, I would most likely do it for most of my beers.

The first step is a dough-in and acid rest, you're using just enough water to get the grain damp. For this step, I used 6qts of 145ºF water to get the grain to 113ºF. Be wary if you use a stainless mash spoon, as you'll most likely bend the thing. The grain to water ratio is so small that there should be no free liquid, just damp grain. Proceed to get your strike water up to a boil. It'll remain at boil for the remainder of the mash. Rest here for 20 minutes.

The second step, a protein rest, occurs next. I added enough water to raise the temperature of the mash to 136ºF, for me - 8 quarts. Rest here for 5 minutes.

After this rest is the first turbid pull. I removed 2 quarts of liquid and immediately placed the smaller kettle within my hot liquor kettle to get it above 176ºF. I've found, at this step, you can let the turbid wort get to a boil but it requires keeping an additional eye on it, as it can boil over.

From here, I proceeded to add enough water to get to 150ºF. In my instance, it was 10 quarts. Rest here for 30 minutes.

At the end of this rest, I pulled an additional 8qts of turbid wort and added it back to the double boiler.

After pulling the second turbid portion, I added enough boiling water to get to 160ºF. This step was 8qts. Rest here for 20 minutes.

Once the 160ºF rest is complete, I removed the turbid wort from the double boiler and added it all back into the mash, raising the temperature to 167ºF. Rest here for 10 minutes.

After the 167ºF rest is complete, I began a short vorlauf and began collecting my first runnings.

After collecting first runnings, I collected enough sparge water to get me to 13 gallons.

I measured out 1.5oz of aged Cascade hops to use during the entirety of the boil. These hops had been vacuum sealed since 2015. As it's impossible to know their alpha acid percentage, I assumed it was less than half of what it originally was. The hops were added to a muslin bag and the bag was held in the wort using an incredibly high tech piece of equipment - a barbeque skewer.

I brought the water to a boil and proceeded to add the hop bag. Originally, I had intended to do a 3 hour boil, but as I had mentioned, it was an arid and windy day and caused a bit more of a boil off than I had expected. I ended the boil at two hours.

After boiling came the most dangerous step of this process. One that, if you're brewing a larger volume, I'd strongly recommend having a second person. I had to walk the boiling hot kettle 20 feet to where it would cool overnight under my willow tree.

Last time I had attempted to move a boiling kettle I ended up in the hospital with second degree burns all over my ankle and foot. I was definitely apprehensive, but took my time and made it in one piece. It was basically a waddle the entire way there.

I covered the kettle in cheese cloth to prevent any solids from falling into it or unwanted guests getting in to drink it. The wood beams were added to keep the cheese cloth in place.

The following morning, I woke up and began to fill the carboy with the cooled wort. It was bitterly cold out and this took longer than I had hoped. After filling, I moved the carboy to its resting place to allow it to warm up and get comfortable for the next year or so of its life.

The thing about Spontaneous beers is that you never know what you're going to get, or even if it will ferment. I've experienced lag times as long as up to a month. However, this one has begun active fermentation after just 48 hours. A record for my spontaneous beers.

Spontaneous beers are my favorite style of beer to make. The yeast culture from the first one I had ever done has become my house wild ale culture and now lives in a 15 gallon solera. This one was cooled at a different time of year and in a different area of my property, so who knows what this will evolve in to. All I do know is the wait to finally crack the vessel open and try it in six months will be awful. I'm impatient and spontaneous ales have taught a less in patience and allowing a beer to breathe and become a product of time and place.

Once this beer is ready, in a year or two, I'll provide an update on it. But for now, we wait.

Marzen Style Ale

I am a sucker for lagers. As my palate has changed over time, I've moved far away from hoppy IPAs and Pale Ales and more towards malt-forward lagers. However much I love the style of beer, the one factor in keeping me from brewing them is the fact I do not have a fermentation chamber to cold-ferment a lager.

Enter Oslo, a Norweigan Kveik strain. Oslo is one of the most neutral strains of yeast I've ever encountered. It can be fermented up to 100ºF without throwing off fusel alcohols or any kind of esters. It is, essentially, the most boring yeast ever. I've brewed a couple of Table Beers with it and wanted to see if I could faithfully recreate a lager. As boring as Oslo is, that is also what makes it great - an ale yeast that ferments clean at all temperatures in its range. That meant I should be able to use it in a lager-style ale.

It just so happened that a friend wanted to start learning how to brew and she really wanted to make a Marzen. It gave me the perfect excuse to test out Oslo in a lager-style ale setting. So, I put together a simple Marzen recipe that Oslo would work well with.

The recipe utilized entirely German malted grains and German hops. The goal was to keep this as traditional as possible with the exception of fermentation.

OGFGABVIBUSRMBoil Length
1.0541.0115.6%2510.360
Bill PercentageFermentable
48.7%Weyermann Vienna
48.7%Weyermann Dark Munich
2.7%Weyermann CaraMunich I
HopTimeAmountIBU
TettnangerFWH1.25oz23
Tettnanger150.25oz2

I decided to use a single-infusion mash for this beer, mashing in at 152F for 60 minutes. During the mash, this beer was treated with 4g of Gypsum and 4g of Baking Soda to match my water to the Munich (Dark Lager) profile in Brewer's Friend. After mashing, I recirculated the beer until it ran clear and added the first wort hop charge.

Once I collected my total volume, I began the boil and boiled for 60 minutes, adding the last hop charge at the appropriate time. After boiling I quickly chilled to about 80F, using an immersion chiller, and then transferred into a carboy where I pitched a few flakes of dried Oslo.

I fermented the beer at 90ºF and left for a couple of days. When I returned home four days later, it had finished fermentation. I proceeded to keg it into a freshly cleaned and purged keg and carbonated it to 2.6 vols.