Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Grapes and Grain: Part 1

Over the past couple of years I have noticed a newish trend in brewing: adding grape juice to beer.  With meads there has long been the Pyment (a hybrid between honey-wine and regular grape wine), but this is a relatively recent idea in the craft brew scene.  Dogfish head probably pioneered this in the states with several of their experimental archaeological reconstructions, but Belgian sour producer Cantillon has been doing this for some time as well.  I managed to find a few of these beers this summer and wrote up this post at the time.  I had planned on posting this some time ago but it fell by the wayside.  I have now added a few more reviews and plan to do a second posting when I get through more of them!

Dogfish Head 61 Minute:  This is a 6.5% ABV pale ale brewed with the addition of Syrah grape must.  I picked this up as a single at Cassanova in Hudson, WI.  Poured into the appropriate Dogfish Head Riedel IPA glass.
Aroma: Citrus and grapefruit up front, but with a tannic grape skin aroma at the end.  Rounded hop and fruit aromas.  Slight sweetness.
Appearance: Copper to nearly pink color that is quite unusual for a beer.  Excellent clarity.  Large fine white head with hints of pink that is very persistent.  Nucleation sites on the bottom of the glass accentuate this effect.
Flavor: The hop bitterness and citrus flavor is dominant up front on the initial taste.  The citrus then fades to a somewhat dry red grape skin flavor.  The flavors all disappear off the tongue quite quickly leaving you with the impression of blandness at the end.
Mouthfeel: Smooth and almost creamy at first.  The finish is off-dry and a bit tart.
Overall: An interesting take on a pale ale and quite unique for my palate.  The grape adds complexity, but I feel that it draws some attention away from the hops in this style beer.  This was fun to try, but like a lot of Dogfish Head beers, it isn't one I'd drink much of.
Rating: 3.5/5

Cantillon Saint Lamvinus:  This is a lambic style beer made with true spontaneous fermentation at one of the oldest and best sour ale breweries in the world.  The brewery sources Merlot and Cabernet-franc grapes from the nearby Libourne region of France and are added to Bordeaux barrels filled with 2-3 year old lambic.  This is not a blended geueze.  The version I had was at the Night of Great Thirst sour ale festival in Belgium, and I did not note down what vintage it was.  In context of all those great sours, I didn't record a lot of details, but here was my impression of the beer.

Overall:  Very tart and dry like most of Cantillon's lambic beers, but with more body and a pleasant dark grape flavor on the finish.  Tannins are present but do not detract from the experience.  The melding of the grape and the sourness was flawless on this, actually elevating the final beer to be more than its separate parts.  For me this is the whole point of adding things to beer--trying to make something that improves the base beer or changes it in a significant and not gimicky way.  I really liked this a lot!
Rating 4.5/5

Cantillon Vigneronne:  This is the first grape infused beer that Cantillon made and was given its name in 1987.  They use late harvest Italian white grapes for this beer and add sugared liquor to kick-start refermentation.  This was tasted on the same night as above with the same difficulties in objective measurement, but here goes!

Overall:  In opposition to the Saint Lamvinus this one actually did not come out as well as I would have liked.  The grapes certainly mellowed the tart and sour lambic, but left it feeling lifeless and bland on my tongue.  The flavors were interesting, but I would take any other Cantillon over this one, even the unblended straight lambic.  This is a case (for me) where the addition of the grapes hindered rather than improved the overall effect of the beer.  Since this is one of the most sought after beers around, I'm sure that serious beer geeks will likely want to lynch me for this review.  But compared to all the other amazing sours I had that night, this one just didn't have the punch I was looking for.  Again, I'm not sure of the vintage, but assume it was from the previous year (2013).  Rating: 3/5.  Interestingly two years ago I actually rated this one higher than the Saint Lamvinus, so there is likely some vintage/year discrepency going on here.

Odell Jaunt:  I discovered this interesting beer at the Four Firkins in St. Louis Park.  Odell has long been a favorite brewery of mine and continues to come out with really unusual beers. This one is made with Riesling grape juice and aged on oak staves.  ABV is 7.6%.  Caged and corked, this one opens with a big "Pop!"

Aroma: Strong white grape aroma right off the bat.  I get some Belgian estery aroma after that combined with some sweet honey and sugary notes.  A bit of tart or lactic zip as it warms up.

Appearance: Golden color, excellent clarity.  Very effervescent with a huge long lasting white head. 

Flavor: Tart at first with flavors of white wine and golden raisins.  There is a sharp finish and a metallic twang that is unpleasant but fleeting on the tongue.  A sweet malt flavor lingers once the metallic has dissipated.  This is very dry and highly carbonated with a medium to almost light body.  I get very little oak flavor (vanilla, char, etc.) but it may add some tannin. 

Overall: An interesting beer, but not my favorite from Odell.  At first I gave this a 3 due to that metallic flavor, but as it warmed up and I got into my second glass of it this improved and I upgraded to a 3.5.

Boulevard Entwined Ale: This is special release from this summer that I am finally getting around to reviewing.  Sj and I actually got to try the test batch of this beer (called Nelson at that time) in the Boulevard tap room last year and loved it.  At the time they hinted that they might scale the beer up for commercial release and I was quite excited to find this on the shelf in Minnesota!  The beer is a sessionable 4.1% ABV and includes Muscat grape juice and the wine-like New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hop.  Using my glass from our trip, I served this one up in style!

Aroma: Unique aroma of white grape juice, sweetness of candy sugar, slight sulfur, and a hint of mustiness.  Almost smells like a Belgian golden strong ale (Duvel).  No distinct hop aroma.

Appearance: One of the lightest colored beers I have had this year!  Straw color with brilliant clarity.  Large white head that is persistent.

Flavor: Grape juice right up front giving this a light wine start, but fades quickly to a pilsner malt finish.  Fairly thin in body.  Slight sulfur notes in flavor, especially as it warms.  Very little hop flavor, but bitterness is present to balance the sweetness.  Not a very sweet beer despite its aroma.  Ends quite dry and crisp like a pilsner, but not astringent.  Very interesting.  Not quite as much Nelson hop flavor as I remember from the test batch.

Overall: A very good, refreshing and easy to drink beer.  The combination of the hop and grape juice really make this a unique beer that is worth trying.  Like a strange offspring of a German Pilsner and a fruity white wine! 4/5

Lucid Halucidation:  This is a collaboration with Waconia's own Parley Lake Winery (just down the road from me!) This is the second year of the collaboration, but I missed it last year.  This year they released the beer at their 3rd anniversary bash.  I was ill that day, stopping by quickly to get my bottle, but didn't get to enjoy the party.  I don't have a ton of information about the beer other than the fact that it is a Belgian style tripel with white grape juice added and clocks in at a hefty 12.5% ABV.  Coming in a large 750 ML foil-wrapped bottle, I served this in the proper glass.

Aroma: Somewhat tart and sulfury initially, but clears a bit when driven off by swirling.  I get more white grape aroma and the Belgian yeast esters of pear and clove.  Some sugary sweetness noted as well.  No hop aroma noted.
Appearance: Golden color with excellent clarity.  A fine, nearly white head that fades to edge of glass, but persists.
Flavor: Up front sharp white wine character that then fades to a light malt/pilsner type finish.  In the middle I get light banana and pear esters.  The end shows a return of that sulfur flavor on the back of the tongue.  Definite alcohol warming, but not boozy hot.  Lingering aftertaste of white grapes with a dry finish.
Overall: An interesting beer and a base style that seems to go well with the grape.  This is the best Lucid beer I've had to date, and is complex and unusual.  Sj didn't love this one, and at 12.5% ABV I didn't dare finish all hers as well. 4/5

The Bruery Atomic Kangarue:  Sj and I picked a couple of these up when we visited The Bruery taproom in Orange County a few months ago.  This is a collaboration with Smog City Brewing, who I have never heard of prior to this.  ABV is 9.5% ABV.  The beer is made with Semillon and Viognier grape juice, blended with a sour ale, dry hopped with Amarillo, and finished with Brettanomyces yeast!  Sound like a lot of stuff going on?

Aroma: The aroma on this is wonderfully complex and seems to morph into something different with every sniff.  Citrus, sharp lemon, mild pine--all coming from the dry hop.  Some tartness and hint of sour, but pleasant.  Some sweetish sugar and as it warms I pick up some white grape.  Definite Brett character.
Appearance: Deep gold color.  Slight haze from dry hop and some lees in the bottle.  A huge white head with fine and tight bubbles that persists for ages.
Flavor:  Up front hop flavor and bitterness with white grape, lemon peel, pear.  The beer is tart but not mouth-puckering like a geueze or lambic.  Slight alcohol noted, but drinks more like 6% than 9.5%!  Dry and lingering tart and bitter finish, but not truly astringent.  Leathery notes as warms.  Has some bone dry white wine flavors.  Body on the thin side, but not watery.
Overall: A bold and wacky beer that keeps changing things up.  By all rights, the hop, sour, and grape should fight each other, but these all just keep building on layers of aroma and flavor.  The grape really plays a supplemental role in this beer, not front and center like some of the examples I've tried. I could drink this every day and be happy.  4.5/5

Coming Up:  Now that I'm paying attention, I have discovered a veritable dragon's hoard of other grape-containing beers in my cellar.  I'll start working on a second group of these reviews ASAP!

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