What happens when the worlds of beer, wine and spirits collide?
“I have had some delicious saisons aged on grape must before and infusing my beer with finished wine from City & Country was an easy step to showcase their and my product,” says Patrick Schnarr, co-founder and brewer at Outcast Brewing (607 Manitou Rd. S.E.; outcastbrewing.ca/).
Inspired by these beer/wine hybrids, Outcast’s newest beer is a 7.2% ABV barrel-fermented saison with Pinot Gris wine from City & Country Urban Winery (544 – 38A Ave. S.E.; cityandcountrywinery.com/). But by using actual wine, rather than grape must, the Outcast saison has more wine character than grape skin character – an explosion of fruit.
For City & Country’s contribution, Chris Fodor, owner and winemaker, chose a 2017 Pinot Gris, made from organic grapes from British Columbia’s Naramata Bench. “Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are virtually the same grape, but Pinot Gris wine is typically oaked. By taking this grape and not oaking it, it is much drier than a typical wine of this style – crisp, clean and fruit forward,” says Fodor.
The choice of an unoaked wine ensures the ultimate beer will not express too much oak, since it was fermented in an oak barrel, which is the third leg of the beer/wine/spirits tripod.
While most beers, even barrel-aged ones, are fermented in stainless steel tanks, fermentation of this beer lasted three months, entirely in the oak barrel. The barrel itself came from Canmore’s Wild Life Distillery (160 – 105 Bow Meadows Crescent, Canmore; wildlifedistillery.ca), where it was used to age gin. Before that, the barrel was used to age W.L. Weller bourbon. And just to make things more complex, Schnarr fermented the beer using a combination of brewer’s yeast and Brettanomyces (generally a no-no in wine, but not uncommon in beer).
That’s a lot of thought that’s gone into this beer. But that is how great beer is made. In the end, the beer is gold to brass in colour — but don’t let the familiar appearance fool you. It has has a complex array of aromas and flavours. In Schnarr’s own words, “It’s funky and dry with some nice stone fruit character. The wine adds some nice fruity notes and accents the dry finish and plays off that. You do still get some notes of bourbon like vanilla and oak.” The yeast of the base beer provides some earthiness to balance against the tartness of the fruit. While complex, the flavours are well-integrated and balanced.
The Outcast beer is available at the brewery in 375ml bottles for $8. If you want to try the wine on its own to separately taste the flavours it contributes, the 2017 Pinot Gris is available at City & Country (just a few blocks away) for $22 (750ml bottle). This Outcast beer is not the first time City & Country has collaborated with a local brewery and Fodor hints that it won’t be the last. Keep your eyes open for these unique beer/wine hybrids to support two local businesses at once.
Don Tse has sampled almost 24,000 different beers. He is the Official Beer Taster for Craft Beer Importers Canada Inc. and Far Out Exporters Inc. which work with many of Alberta’s breweries. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.