Leah’s Beer School: Lesson 21

Beer & Wine Hybrids

Beer & wine hybrids have a long history in the craft beer world, dating back to at least the 1970s when Cantillon made Vigneronne, a blend of Lambic beer aged on Muscat grapes. Over the past several years, an increasing number of breweries have been experimenting with hybrids by blending wine with beer, co-fermenting wine and beer together and aging beer on wine grapes. Not only are there different ways to incorporate wine with beer, brewers may use whole grapes, grape must (freshly squeezed grape juice with skins, seeds and stems), grape juice, or pomace (solid portion of the must). 

Italian Grape Ales

It should come as no surprise that these “grape ales” really began to gain traction in Italy, where Italian brewers began making hybrid beers to showcase regional wine grapes. In 2015, the BJCP added Italian Grape Ale to their beer guide as a regional style. According to the guidelines, an IGA uses whole grapes or grape must during fermentation rather than ageing beer on fruit or adding grape juice to a finished beer.  The defining feature of an IGA is that grape or grape must can be used “in the boil, primary/secondary fermentation, or aging.” While an IGA does not adhere to strict style limitations, it should not be exceedingly sour, and hops should never be overpowering.

Grape Ales 

Inspired by Italian Grape Ales, many North American breweries have been making grape ales, but with far fewer limitations. The term “grape ale” acknowledges the crossover between wine and beer, leaving it open for interpretation so long as the balance leans ever so slightly to the beer side of things. Beer & wine hybrids may be legally be defined as beer so long as they contain less than 50 percent of fermentables other than malt, in this case wine grapes or grape product. Unlike IGAs, grape ales are not required to use whole grapes or grape must, and may feature grapes that are not locally sourced. 

Local Grape Ales 

Toronto Brewers have made some excellent grape ales, among them BUMO from Burdock, White Lies from Blood Brothers and Fates & Furies from Indie Ale House. A great expression of a beer & wine hybrid, BUMO is an ongoing wine-beer collaboration series by Burdock Brewery and Ontario’s Pearl Morissette winery.  The most recent BUMO iteration, BUMO 6, features a blend of mixed-fermentation beers aged on freshly pressed Cabernet Franc skins and blended with Cabernet Franc. 

Blending the worlds of wine and beer may be the perfect opportunity to bridge the great divide between beer and wine drinkers.  Blurring the lines between two seemingly distinct realms has inspired the creation of many incredible brews from white-wine influenced summer ales to bold red wine accented imperial stouts and everything in between.