The Barrel Master Takes Over: Wine Beer Hybrids

Being so close to wine country it is easy for us to make close ties with local winemakers and after a couple of beers (or bottles of wine) we usually come up with some crazy ideas. We started brewing our wine grape collaboration beers about four years ago with a tiny winery in Berkeley called Lusu Cellars, and now we have 3 different varieties of these collabs. The three beers we produce are Unholy Alliance, a Sour Blonde with white grapes from Rockwall Cellars. Cultured Chaos, our Sour Red with red wine grapes from our friends over at Bedrock. And finally, Lusu’s Love Child, our Rosé inspired Sour Blonde with red wine grapes. Each beer is unique, and we love these beers so much, we can’t stop making them.

The barrel program team loading grape skins into a steel tote

A pile of grape skins

For each of the three beers, we collaborate with the wineries finding out what varieties they would like to feature and discuss which grapes would go best with our base beers. The wineries then press the grapes for the juice, and we pick up the leftover skins, referred to as “pomace” in the wine world. The pomace has a ton of flavor and aromatics still trapped in them along with some fun tannins which add a nice vinous character to the beers. Winemakers regularly ferment on top of the skins to extract tannin and flavor and we do the same exact thing, essentially blending aspects of the wine and beer worlds together.

Three bottled beers sitting on the brewhouse stairs: Unholy Alliance, Lusu's Love Child, and Cultured Chaos

My current favorite out of the three beers is Unholy Alliance which is made with Malvasia Bianca grapes from our friends at Rockwall Cellars in Alameda. The winemakers are very careful with their white grapes and usually only lightly press off the juice as to not extract too much tannin from the skins. Since the white grapes are pressed less, we get a little more sugar from them and thus get a bit of an ABV bump. Rockwall provided us with 2000lb of lightly pressed Malvasia Bianca grape skins which was then secondary fermented in a small batch of our Blonde American Sour. The grape skins infuse unique wine like qualities indicative of this lesser known Italian grape. Look for aromas of honey, grass, and Jasmine melding with slight lemon and citrus qualities from the sour base. This beer drinks extremely dry with a bright tartness and mild tannin imparted from the pomace. Citrus, grassy and melon notes dominate the palate that fades to mild honey blending with a slight wheat & malt notes. All three of the beer-wine hybrids are now available at Drake’s Barrel House.

Written by Travis Camacho, Barrel Program Manager