Wine Into Beer
As a beer geek, one of my greatest joys is sharing the gospel of craft beer with the uninitiated. Oftentimes creating a new convert is as easy as simply getting a good beer into a novice’s hand. In other cases I’ve had to dig deep in my repertoire to find the bottle that will redeem the lost. Some of the most intimidating challenges I’ve faced as a beer evangelist have come from devout wine drinkers. Here are a few tools I’ve found handy when building a bridge from wine to beer:
Wine-Barrel Aged Beers
Just as a good bourbon-barrel stout can serve as a gateway for whiskey drinkers, beers aged in wine-barrels can appease an oenophile by offering the familiar oaky, fruity and tannic qualities they crave. Expand the world of a white wine drinker with something like Petrus Aged Pale Ale, a 2013 winner at the NY International Beer Competition. This beauty has blossomed 24-36 months in oak casks that were earlier used to mature white wine and later Calvados, a dreamy apple brandy. Dropping that knowledge should get your friend’s attention. The first sip of this beer is surprisingly sour with a sharp green apple tartness and a woodsy bite. A second approach yields some vanilla sweetness, pineapple acidity, and a pistachio butteriness rounded by mellow oak and a dry finish. Help your friend taste this by suggesting that the ale has more kinship with a champagne brut than a beer. A revelation!
Does your friend prefer red wines? Try the Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien from Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes. This sour Bière de Garde is blended from casks that once held such treasures as pinot noir, merlot, cabernet, grappa and even whiskey or rum. It’s impossible to taste this and continue to claim that beer can’t be as complex as wine. Every vintage of Bon-Chien varies depending on the particular casks and blend used, but common descriptors include cherry, fig, almond, vanilla, lavender, weathered oak, tobacco, leather, cellar musk, and balsamic. Those are the sort of words you might expect to find on a wine label, right? You and your friend will have great fun sipping on this and working together to articulate all of the amazing secrets it holds.
Wine drinkers can also be offered familiar territory through wine/beer hybrids, beers that gain their fruitiness from the addition of grape must. A leader in innovation here is Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. Challenge your friends to find the Muscat grapes in the rich honey, bold saffron of Midas Touch or the viognier and pinot gris grapes in the crisp apple, tart lemon of Noble Rot. Both are wonderfully intricate ales boasting big vinous profiles. If your friend gravitates more toward reds, try either Red & White, a Belgian-style Witbier blended with pinot noir juice, or Dogfish Head’s newest offering Sixty-One. Here syrah grape must is added to the beloved 60 Minute IPA to create a light, refreshing brew that is both pungently hoppy and brightly fruity with a slight tannic bite. Imagine it as a twist on a wine spritzer- fizzy, tart, thirst-quenching, and made for hot summer days on the lawn.
Your Favorite Beer
While the styles above have served me well when introducing wine drinkers to better beers, don’t underestimate the power of sharing your enthusiasm for a beer you truly love. It’s infectious! Whether a saison, dubbel or porter, your favorite beer is probably your best recruitment tool. Be a good guide and help your friend explore the beer. Detail all of the glorious things you taste and coach them to describe what they find too. Even if they're not hooked on the brew, they’ll gain an appreciation for your fandom. If nothing else, that will likely gain you a second chance to win them to the beer side with another bottle. Cheers and good luck!