If there’s one set of rules we never fail to break, it’s beer before liquor and wine before beer. But today’s brewers aren’t afraid to overlap — and we’re lapping it up. A beer that tastes like a Manhattan cocktail, or smacks of sauvignon blanc? Both might seem like mad-scientist-style brewing, but neither is exactly a crazy new idea.
For decades, stateside brewers have increasingly dabbled in sour beer and wild fermentation, tinkering with non-traditional yeasts, bacteria and rule-breaking media. These early brewers cracked the lid on beer’s DNA, and began to fiddle with notes of fellow craft beverages, too; in the 1990s, Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company introduced bourbon barrel-aged beer while Sonoma County’s Russian River Brewing Company aged beer in anything from chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon barrels. Around the same time, Delaware’s delightfully oddball Dogfish Head Craft Brewery injected white Muscat grapes straight into the recipe.
“Much of what we do is inspired by the way in which classic cocktails are built — balancing the strength of the base beer with acidity and sweetness, while providing accent and variation through the use of fruit and botanicals,” says Jason Synan of Hudson Valley Brewery, which just released a new sour fermented with Muscat grapes. The result isn’t beer just for beer nerds, but beer for wine enthusiasts or whiskey aficionados, and amateurs of all kinds.
It’s not quite a vice versa drink — these are all definitively beer products — but a promiscuous vice nonetheless.
“The American Craft Brewing scene is constantly striving to create new and unique beers and to blur the lines between beer and other beverages,” says Phil Markowski, master brewer of Connecticut’s Two Roads Brewing Co., who dabbled in wine grapes in 1996 whilst brewing in Long Island’s East End (he was surrounded by dozens of vineyards at the time, and he used wine grapes like a localized angel’s share — it was part of the territory).
Bryn Hagman, project manager at Stillwater Artisanal, a nomadic brewery, nods to the inevitably of it all. “I think it only makes sense that we would eventually find a way to hybridize the different ‘booze’ categories,” she says. “The average consumer is so well-educated these days, also, that it makes it an easy jump to consider beer, wine and spirits when selecting something to drink — why not something that combines multiple of these elements? It’s fun.”
In the past, these might not all have sat at the same bar together. But this motley breed, borrowing the tools of each trade, is pulling craft culture together. Browse the photo gallery above to find beers made with wine grapes or crafted after cocktails.