We love beer. We love wine. (We know you do, too.) So, when a chance to bring those two worlds together into one delicious beverage presented itself we jumped right on board. It started with a brainstorm between Andy Goettsch, head brewer at Nouvelle Brewing by Travail, and Midwest Supplies general manager Craig Chapman. The result is Dolce Far Niente, a beer-wine hybrid Italian Pilsner co-fermented with Trebbiano wine grape juice, brewed on a larger scale at Nouvelle and on a much smaller scale at Midwest Supplies (see Craig's homebrew recipe here).
Beer-wine hybrids go by different names, all insinuating the marriage of beer and wine: vinobirra, vinale, oenobeer, there is even an actual style (with full guideline details) for the concept under the name Italian Grape Ale. Regardless of the name, the main thing to know is that the beverage is made by brewing a beer and co-fermenting that chilled wort with some amount of grape wine juice – sometimes called grape must – as a percentage of the total fermentable sugars. The flavor profile of the beer and wine should complement and elevate one another, and of course there is a very wide world of flavors that something like this could include.
Andy Goettsch raises a glass of Dolce Far Niente
with Nouvelle’s 3-bbl brewhouse in the background
Andy Goettsch is a big fan of the concept. During his time with Nouvelle and Travail, he has brewed, blended, and fermented four very different versions of the style. The first was a Golden Belgian Strong Ale co-fermented with Gewurztraminer grape juice, where the honey, orange blossom, and tropical fruit notes of the wine juice accentuated the delicate malt character of the beer. The second, Petite Quad, was a high-gravity Belgian Quad wort co-fermented with Petite Syrah wine must. (He’s brewing another version of this beer soon to be aged in Syrah barrels!) Goettsch then collaborated with Falling Knife Brewing Company on Saison du Vin, a snappy, dry-hopped saison, which was fermented with Chardonnay juice to add a crisp, fruity and slightly tart feel to the light, bready malt backbone – almost like a kiss of brett without the brett. Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka dry hops lent a vinous element to pair well with the juice and add some passionfruit and gooseberry notes to the mix.
For Nouvelle’s most recent oenobeer, Dolce Far Niente, Goettsch wanted to create something using an Italian Pilsner as the base beer. An Italian Pils is a Pilsner-style lager with some twists, typically brewed to highlight both malt and hops – leaning a bit heavier on hop notes thanks to a big dose of dry hops – as well as low to medium fruit notes. Andy knew that the beer part should built on the Italian base malt Weyermann Eraclea Pilsner, a malt grown near the Adriatic Sea. But what grape juice would go best? Starting his beer career as a homebrewer and a familiar face at Midwest Supplies, Andy was well aware that we offer many unique 100% fresh varietal wine grape juices twice a year, Chilean varietals in spring and Italian & Californian varities in fall). He and Craig got to talking about the project, considering what varietal might work best to complement an Italian Pilsner, and they decided on Trebbiano, an Italian white wine varietal.
While it might not be as popular as a single varietal as Chardonnay or Riesling, Trebbiano is actually one of the most planted grapes in the world, commonly used to make brandies like Armagnac and Cognac. (Coincidentally, it’s also the traditional grape for balsamic vinegar production.) The variety is known for having floral notes, as well as citrus-y flavors of tangerine and orange peel. As Andy describes in the brewery’s tasting notes for the beer, Eraclea Pilsner malt married with Italian Trebbiano wine must creates a honey sweet base that supports notes of pear, mandarin orange, citrus and flowers from the wine itself along with Saphir and Hallertau Mittelfruh hops. (Since Trebbiano isn’t always available in fresh juice form, Craig’s homebrew recipe makes suggestions for other white wine grape must you could use.)
“Trebbiano seems like a perfect fit for both the cracker-y, toasted honey malt flavors and the hops,” says Goettsch. “For hops, the beer features Hallertau (which are herbal, floral) and Sapphir (known for orange and lemon citrus notes) that bridge that gap between the grape and the malt, pulls them together, and makes them one.”
Brewers are co-fermenting beer wort and wine must, and we’re here for it!
For the pro version of the beer, Andy dialed back the percentage of wine grape juice in the mix to about 13 percent. In the past he’s used as much as 49 percent grape juice as fermentable sugar – the legal limit for professional breweries. “I went with just a little bit less here because the style is so light,” he said. “It’s only 4.8% ABV, very delicate, and I didn’t want the wine to overpower it. Trebbiano is a grape that has a bit more heft to it, not super strong flavors but a bit of body and sweetness, and a good amount of acidity as well. I didn’t want it to overpower the overall beer.”
Dolce Far Niente is a delightful crossover beverage bringing two great things together in a delicious pint. If you are local to the Twin Cities stop by Nouvelle Brewing to have a glass, sample Andy’s many other wonderful beers, and enjoy Nouvelle’s food menu of pizza, burgers, and sandwiches. If you want to bring the oebobeer concept into your own homebrewery, please check out Craig Chapman’s homebrew-scale recipe. Stop by Midwest Supplies where Craig and his crew will be happy to help you build the recipe to take home and make it your own.
Pro Tips for Making Oenobeer at Home
For those homebrewers and/or winemaker who might already be interested in this topic, we asked Andy Goettsch for more tips and things to consider when building a oenobeer recipe.
Treat Must to Kill Wild Yeast
If you get fresh juice by the bucket at a wine juice buy. If frozen, allow it to thaw in the fridge until completely liquid. Andy suggests you treat the wine juice with potassium metabisulfite to kill off any wild yeast that might be present that might affect the overall flavor or take over fermentation on its own. We suggest you allow the treated must to rest overnight to make sure the sulfites do not impact the ale or lager strain you pitch. Note: adding potassium metabisulfite will not affect the ability for your beer yeast to ferment; it only kills off any wild yeast that might be present in the juice before blending.
Building Your Grist
Andy suggests starting with a standard take on a grist for style, making slight modifications if you see how the wine juice might clash with certain flavors (roast, molasses, heavy caramel malts, etc.) “Many wines are sweet, and fruitiness is backed with sweetness,” he said, “so if you want your hops to taste more juicy you brew a beer with a bit more sweetness. It’s the same thing with wine. So, even in a beer like Dolce Far Niente I’ll add a little bit of CaraHell just to boost that.”
For grist, consider the flavors you want from both the wort and the wine juice. For example, when he brewed the Petite Syrah Andy says he pulled back a bit on the color of the beer so that the reddish-purple color of the wine also showed itself in the final beer. “I wanted the grape juice to show up, too, so I didn’t want too much Special B in there, I didn’t want heavy caramel malts, or even that beginning of roastiness. I wanted that malt sweetness and dark fruit, and then have that flavor components of the Petite Syrah to lend straight into that. And it dries out, it’s a very tannic wine, and those flavors will develop over time and blend in. Our first one is now a year old in bottles and it’s becoming even more wine-like, probably the most wine-like thing I’ll ever be able to brew here.”
Juice on the Cold Side: To Dilute or Not?
Andy doesn’t boil the juice. He adds the juice when knocking out chilled wort into the fermenter. It’s not always easy to source 100% fresh varietal juice – although Midwest Supplies and Northern Brewer Milwaukee do present the opportunity twice a year. It’s more common to find wine kit juice concentrate, and Andy says there’s two ways to think about using it. The first way would be to dilute the concentrated juice with water per kit instructions and work that into your wort/juice blend, generally to about 20-24 BRIX. However, you could also just use the concentrated juice without diluting it with water. This is where Andy points out that homebrewers actually have a slight advantage over pro brewers in that they can push the limit of wine juice/wort ratio and keep it legal. As such he suggested homebrewers consider using wine kit concentrate as-is in some beers – maybe experiment with small batches at first – making sure to adjust for gravity, volume, etc. before doing so. But there’s no reason to believe you couldn’t make an even more wine-like beer by doing so.
Beware of Hops
When it comes to hops, work to avoid major clashes in flavor. Consider what flavor profile is common for the wine style and then select hops that match or complement those characteristics.
Since wine juice doesn’t have the nutrient value of a beer wort, Andy recommends you add yeast nutrient to power fermentation. Adding yeast nutrient will just further fortify your yeast for fermentation, especially if you’re using upwards of 49% wine juice in the blend. Note: oenobeer are generally fermented with a beer strain (ale or lager), not wine yeast. Without enough nutrient, fermentation could be sluggish or incomplete, and your oenobeer could become sulphur-y. Bottom line, because of the amount of wine juice being used here it’s best to err on the side of proactive precaution and treat it more like you would wine, cider or mead than a regular beer fermentation.
Be Mindful of Attenuation
Most grape juices have a high attenuation percentage, and thus a high potential of fermenting very dry. Be aware of this when building your grist and mash profile, as well as when choosing your yeast. You can look for yeasts with a lower attenuation rate. You can also mash your grist at a slightly higher temperature to make it a bit less fermentable, which will leave more residual sweetness and body to balance things out against the drier-fermenting juice component of the oenobeer. Andy says you do want at least a touch of sweetness in the final product to help lift up the flavors of the grape juice in your final product.
Late Juice Additions
Something that Andy hasn’t yet tried (but is on his radar for future oenobeers) is a late addition of the wine juice. Again, as luck would have it for us, this is something that might be easier on the homebrew scale. For a theoretical example, you could add the wine juice to the fermenter after the beer is about 60-70% fermented in hopes of losing less of the juice flavor and aroma compounds that might be scrubbed or off gassed during the earlier stages of a more vigorous fermentation. This method might also help your yeast ferment out maltose (from the wort) first before even having the fructose (from wine juice) as an available sugar source. Very interesting. Somewhat related to attenuation mentioned above, you could also consider running fermentation on the lower end of your yeast’s temperature range to keep the fermentation less aggressive, as long as it won’t affect the final flavor of the beer.