Two new wild ales from Avery Brewing bridge the gap between beer and wine
"We are trying to avoid the beer/wine hybrid name but, yeah, if you look at how you produce both beverages, that's basically what it is," says Andy Parker, who runs the barrel-aging program at Boulder's Avery Brewing.
On Saturday, Avery will release two beers from its wildly popular, highly-experimental Barrel Aged Series, both incorporating grapes and wild fermentation and barrel aging.
The first is Muscat d'Amour, in which 150 gallons of Muscat Blanc grape must provide 25 percent of the beer's fermentables. The 10.78 percent ABV beer has been aged for fourteen months in Chardonnay barrels and with brettanomyces yeast.
The second is Récolte Sauvage, which used 150 gallons of actual cabernet sauvignon grapes from Colorado's BookCliff Vineyards fermented with naturally occurring wild yeasts from the harvested grape skins. This one was aged fourteen months in cabernet sauvignon barrels and stands at 11 percent ABV.
The beers are part of a wave of beers that incorporate grapes in one way or another. Other examples include Dogfish Head Noble Rot, a saison (available on store shelves now) that was made with unfermented juice from viognier and pinot gris grapes; Sierra Nevada's Birra Vina, which will be on tap at the Cheeky Monk on February 18, made with 300 pounds of crushed petite sirah and temporanillo grapes; and Blue Moon's award-winning Vintage Blonde Ale, which is made with Chardonnay grape juice.
"It's not that we are the first to use grapes in beer, but these are some of the only barrel-aged ones that I know of," says Parker.
The idea was born about three years ago when Avery's brewers were touring BookCliff Vineyards on the Western Slope. "When you walk through the place, you actually see the grapes fermenting in these giant pools, and we thought, if we are going to do this, let's try to keep the grapes in the mixture," he says. "Lets put them directly into the fermenter."
The goal was to make the beer from scratch -- rather than blending the beer with grape juice that had already been pressed. So, Parker and his team threw everything in -- skins, stems and all. "It was a risk. It could have not worked out, and to be honest, I'm actually surprised that it came out as good as it did," he adds.
Upping that risk factor even higher was how Parker let the grapes ferment. "Usually vineyards add sulphites to keep grapes from starting to ferment as they travel. I requested that they not do that," Parker says. Instead, the grapes began to ferment with whatever wild yeasts were floating in the air between the Western Slope and Boulder. "Whatever was living on those grapes did 90 percent of the fermentation."
And although these beers were fermented using wild yeasts, both planned and unplanned, Parkers stresses that two new brews shouldn't be classified as "sour" beers. Sour beers, he explains are "brewed with brettanomyces yeast, but also with acid-producing bacteria such as pediococcus and lactobacillus." No bacteria were added to these beers.
The two beers will be released on Saturday at the brewery's taproom beginning at 5 p.m.; fans are limited to six bottles each. A few bottles of the Muscat (roughly 180 cases were produced) and the Sauvage (120 cases) might end up on liquor store shelves as well.
Neither beer is cheap. Both will run $8 for a single twelve-ounce bottle. But Parker says the price is fair. "Some people will ask why they should pay $8 for a bottle of beer. And yes, they're right. It's beer. But it's world-class beer. Can you get a bottle of world-class wine for eight bucks? It's actually an inexpensive price in my humble opinion."