Wine and beer are pretty close cousins, from a production point of view, but they tend not to mix all that much in real life, either socially or physically. “Beer Bar” and “Wine Bar,” for example, tend not to conjure the same mental images. Nor do you find a lot of grape juice mixed in beer. Once in a while, someone will do something special; one of the few commercial examples is local: Napa Smith puts out a seasonal Oktoberfest-inspired lager called Crush Beer, which has a proprietary mix of grape juice in the tank during fermentation.
But it takes someone a little wild to decide to make wine a stable part of his year-round lineup, particularly when it means adding it to his flagship beer. So leave it to Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head in Delaware, home of many a slightly cracked idea, to give it a try, releasing a combination of his famous 60 Minute IPA and a big tankerload of syrah juice from California in a new beer called 61. In his video explanation, he says the idea started because he and his friends had long enjoyed mixing the 60 Minute with a little finished Pinot Noir in the glass for an unusual kick.
In a year or so of experimentation, however, brewers found that the raw, unfermented Pinot juice (the “must” to you wine aficionados) was too tanic when added to the fermenting beer (that would be “wort” to you beer aficionados). They didn’t like Zinfandel in there either, so they eventually hit on Syrah as the perfect vehicle for a fruity, dry addition to the highly-hopped 60 Minute IPA.
He’s played with grapes in wine before, including a brew call Noble Rot, using grapes infected with botrytis; and Red & White, a Belgian-style witbier using Pinot Noir. But both are just occasional brews, only available when Calagione and his brewers feel the urge.
Sam says the juice in the new brew is from California, though he doesn’t say where. I’ve emailed him to ask for more specifics about where it comes from, and also why he decided to take a risk on such an unusual mix and make it part of his year-round lineup, his first addition since 2007. I’ll let you know when he gets back to me.
UPDATE 7/19: Sam gets back to me to say that he decided to add the beer to his lineup for a simple reason: “we love it and we want to drink it ourselves year round ;).” On the grape sourcing, he confirms it’s all California fruit but doesn’t want to give away his secret source: “the sources for world class grapes are kind of sacred,” he says.