Not since Reeses got chocolate in someone’s peanut butter have I been this confused over a food product. This week’s Wednesday edition of Griffy on Wine is going to look into the burgeoning world of beer wine.
Beer and wine have much of the same history, although beer might be older as it dates back to around 9500 B.C.E. Beer and wine grew up in the same neighborhood, the “fertile crescent,” which extended from the Nile in Egypt along the Mediterranean cost over to the Persian Gulf. This area is also called, “the cradle of civilization,” and there is reason to believe that both beer and wine might have had a big hand in civilization first developing. I guess drunks can’t walk too well, so humans had to either give up being nomads or give up drinking; well the rest is Western Civilization!
Beer and wine served as cornerstones for the development of classic civilizations, like those in Egypt and Mesopotamia, because they provided a clean way to ingest water. It appears that sanitation developed much later in the course of human history, and having a bunch of humans around staying in one spot tended to ruin the water supply. The common wisdom was never drink the water–drink beer or wine instead. Both beverages were common in antiquity and, by modern standards, both were also pretty lousy! Around 1600 C.E., beer was the beverage of choice in Europe: it was safe, it was better quality, it cost less, and didn’t spoil as fast. What’s not to like? It took wine another 150 years to catch up.
Wine was always elevated over beer, certainly not for its quality, but more for its link to divinity. Beer is linked to humans but wine was of the gods. Now beer did have a godliness of it’s own–Osiris in Egypt and Silenus in Greek and Roman times–but in the case of the latter, he was always a buddy to Dionysus, who was the man! Wine was upper crust, beer common folks, even though artifacts clearly show that the royalty drank both. Beer and Wine traveled parallel courses of development, never really intersecting until now.
According to a story in Wine Spectator magazine, some craft brewers a few years ago began experimenting with adding grapes and wine juice to their beers. Today the practice is becoming more wide spread. Hey, if we have hybrid cars, why not hybrid beer and wine?
The process involves adding the crushed grape or wine juice to the beer mash before fermentation, so the grape sugars and malt grains ferment together. My favorite is called Noble Rot, from Dogfish Head brewery based in Milton, DE. The brew comes in both red and white. I’ve only tried the red, it’s a Belgian style witbier brewed with Pinot Noir juice.
Piedmont, Italy, the land of Barolo, is becoming the epicenter of Italy’s eclectic beer scene. Here, beer makers are experimenting with utilizing wine-making techniques in their brewing. One good example is barrel aging in oak barrels for beer. Several young brewers are learning to balance brewing and wine making in one of Italia’s most noble wine producing areas.
The trades are taking notice. Food magazines are now “pairing” beer, wine, or wine-beer to foods. Check out Food and Wine magazine. There are now Grape Hop tours across Italy and Spain, where you tour both breweries and vineyards. Several micro-breweries, one I visited in New Hampshire are also becoming micro-vineyards, making wine from purchased wine juice. I have not heard of any vineyards making beer.
Is this a trend? Is it a fad? Or is it young people doing what they do best: breaking the rules and experimenting to find their own creative voice? To be honest, I haven’t a clue, but it’s exciting to watch. Not being a big fan of beer I don’t think you have to worry about Griffy on Wine changing course any time soon. But what the hell, try it, you might like it!