Beer is beer and wine is wine, but thanks to some adventurous Colorado breweries and wineries, these two distinct beverage worlds are meeting in some very tasty combinations. Wineries and cideries are experimenting with hops typically reserved for beer, while breweries are incorporating wine must (the juice, skins, seeds and stems of freshly crushed grapes) in their brewing process or aging their beers in wine barrels.
The simplest beer-wine hybrid is beer aged in wine barrels. My first taste of wine-tinged beer was at Banded Oak Brewing Company at 470 Broadway, which offers two such beers – a bière de garde aged in shiraz barrels, and a Belgian-style beer aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels. The oak barrels impart a hint of flavor to the beers, primarily from the wood (but possibly a little from the wine remnants, too). Banded Oak beers are available in three- and four-ounce taster glasses perfect for the wine drinker accustomed to a pour smaller than the typical pint glass.
To taste the next level of beer-wine synthesis, head south a few blocks to Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales at 1290 South Broadway. The Mach-Limit series, available on tap, is made from wine grapes and beer. Black Project's wort is cooled in a large square copper “coolship” fermentation vat, where it comes into contact with natural bacteria and yeast from the air. Once barreled and aged, the resulting beer is pleasantly sour. This golden, sour ale is then barreled with macerated Palisade grapes and further aged. The final product, says brewer Skip Schwartz, is a beverage that is 49 percent wine and 51 percent beer. “It’s the legal limit to which we can have wine and beer” and still be a brewery, he notes. It’s the mach-limit of beer.
One delicious and refreshing version of Mach-Limit is made with petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon grapes. The wine-forward taste is fruity without being sweet; the beer is lightly carbonated and slightly sour, perfect for a summer afternoon. The malbec and merlot versions are stronger and darker and would pair perfectly with a big roast beef sandwich. This year, Black Project hopes to work with nine grape varietals, including three whites. The brewery also makes several other fruit-infused beers.
Because Black Project only makes small batches, these delicious beers are only available on tap for a limited time. Fortunately, the brewery will release its Supercruise beers made with cabernet franc grapes or malbec and merlot grapes. The Supercruise series is lighter on the wine content than Mach-Limit. Because of the limited quantity, you'll need to enter a lottery if you want to buy a bottle; see details on the brewery’s website and Facebook page.
Once you’ve had this type of beer, as a wine drinker, you’ll want more. Be sure to visit Crooked Stave’s taproom at the Source (3350 Brighton Boulevard) in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, which makes several fruit-infused beers. Going south? Sample the unique variety of fruit-infused sour beers at Paradox Beer Company in beautiful Divide, just west of Colorado Springs. And for a longer excursion, there's Casey Brewing & Blending in Glenwood Springs. Don't drop in unannounced, though; you'll need to call ahead for a tour. Out of gas? You can try founder Troy Casey’s offerings at fifteen Denver area liquor stores and taprooms.
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Casey combines Colorado grains, fruit and hops to make traditional, moderately sour and fruit-infused beers. The wine concept of terroir is lost in the beer world, the brewer notes, but explains that “our beers capture the specific taste of Colorado.” Fruit-infused beers also provide a method of preservation. The taste can bring you back to summer, when the fruit was fresh-picked.
On the other side of beer-wine synthesis are wineries and cideries that use hops in their products. To name a few worth trying: Denver’s Infinite Monkey Theorem makes a dry-hopped sauvignon blanc available in cans, and Colorado Cider Company and Stem Ciders both make tasty hopped ciders.
Red Fox Cellars in Palisade made a sparkling barbera wine in a Black Project beer barrel; Black Project, in turn, buys grapes from Red Fox. According to Scott Hamilton, who owns Red Fox with his wife, Sherrie, the barbera is wild, tropical and delicious — but it’s not on the regular wine menu, so ask for it at the tasting-room bar if you happen to be out on the Western Slope. The winery makes both traditional and experimental wines, ports and ciders in different kinds of barrels. In terms of out-of-the-box thinking, “we’re more like a brewery,” Hamilton explains (and Schwartz at Black Project agrees, describing Red Fox the same way).
The beer and wine worlds really have collided, and the result is beautiful.