Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hybrid Wine-Beer Sour Tasting

I’m not a frequent wine drinker. While I don’t mind the flavors of a big red wine, they have a tendency to overwhelm my palate to the point where I can only taste three things: dark fruit, tannins, and alcohol. The New York Times had an interesting article a couple years ago on how diluting beverages like wine, coffee, and whiskey with water can help bring out subtle flavors and aromatics. 

To create this wine-beer hybrid, Nathan and I aged four gallons of our red wine barrel aged sour beer on a gallon of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (the last of a five gallon bucket). The beer dilutes the intense flavor of the grapes, which helps my palate pull out lighter and more interesting flavors usually obscured in wine by their high concentration (oddly). Unlike water though, the beer adds its own flavor, preventing the combination from tasting thin or watered down.

Cabernet Sauvignon "Golden" Sour

A glass of wine-beer hybrid.Appearance – The light pink head evaporates almost instantly leaving a beer that looks more like a rosé.I'll admit that a stable head would be nice, but it certainly adds to the vinous vibe.

Smell – The aroma is rich with grapes, but it doesn’t smell like wine. The fruit is lighter and fresher than red wines tend to be. The Cabernet gives a complex blend of aromatics, grapes sure, but also cherries and raspberries. Brett funk makes an appearance as well, with more classic leathery funk than the other version of this beer. Just a hint of vinegar is released when I swirl the beer.

Taste – Solid tangy lactic sourness, along with a big fruit character. Similar grape character and level to Cantillon Saint Lamvinus, bold, but not dominant. In the flavor the fruit comes across even more like raspberries than in the nose; I'm not sure what fruit I would guess was added. Not sure if the slightly toasty flavor is from the malt or the Brett. A wisp of residual sweetness helps to balance the acidity. The grapes mostly obscure the oak flavor, but I’m sure the barrel helps the beer taste more wine-like.

Mouthfeel – Moderate body, although it feels a bit fuller than the non-fruited portions of the batch. The prickly carbonation is just about right for my tastes.

Drinkability & Notes – I couldn’t be happier with the way this portion of the solera turned out. It is interesting that diluting the grapes compared to a wine actually brings out more of the subtle flavors from the fruit. I’ll have to buy another bucket of frozen grapes the next time I have a couple sour beers ready for fruit.


  1. I was also shocked at how vinous my cabernet aged sour quad turned out, considering a similar fruiting quantity (I think we got the same bucket 'o grapes from midwest). Definitely is fertile ground for further exploration...I bottled mine to maybe 1.2 vol of CO2, just enough for a slight tingle, lift the aromatics, but leaving the full, but soft tannic mouthfeel of a great wine.

  2. Agreed (thanks again for the tip on Midwest's sale), hard to say if I like this one better than the big dark saison I did with the same grapes.

    How is the brewery coming along? I'm headed up to Boston tomorrow morning.

  3. Where do you get your cabarnet grapes? I'd like to get some to experiment with but feel like I'm missing someting

  4. @mike...we finally can get going with the build. Took ~14mo to get the permit! Will be there Sat AM doing demo/cleaning if you have some time to drop by: jc (at) trilliumbrewing (dot) com

  5. The grapes came from Midwest Brewing Supply, ~$80 for a five gallon bucket. They only have one type at the moment.

  6. Was there any sort of treatment you gave the grapes prior to adding them to the beer? Like smashing them or freezing to rupture the skins? Or did they just go in whole. I ask because I have a couple of sours going at the moment that I want to play around with in a few more months.

  7. The grapes came frozen, and looked to be pretty well ruptured by the time I got them. All I did was put them into the fermentor, let them defrost, and racked beer onto them.