Calagione and the folks at Dogfish Head Brewery are once again defying
beer logic, this time with Noble Rot, a beer brewed with spicy Belgian
yeast and fungus-covered wine grapes.
Brewery founder Sam Calagione calls Noble Rot, the brewery’s newest release, a “hybrid beverage” because it attempts to mesh wine and beer. By using the traditional ingredients of barley, hops, water and yeast along with wine grapes, Dogfish Head has created a beer that defies classification. (Though Calagione tries by deeming it “saison-esque.”)
Wine lovers will recognize the name Noble Rot as the more common name of the benevolent fungus botrytis. Botrytized grapes are used to produce Sauternes and Tokaji, some of the world’s finest dessert wines.
While some beer purists may scoff at the concept of grapes in beer, one needs only to look at the past to understand it’s not completely out-of-the-box thinking. Archaeologists have discovered that thousands of years ago, in places such as Turkey, China and Central America, the people in those areas combined ingredients like saffron and hawthorn fruit with multiple sugar sources like honey, grapes, rice and barley to create intoxicating libations for special ceremonies.
“I think [the beer is] a great reminder that bringing ingredients in outside of the traditional four is something our ancestors were doing long before,” said Calagione. “It’s like a liquid time capsule.”
While this is not Calagione’s first attempt to combine wine and beer, it is his most ambitious.
“We’ve been brewing with different grapes for years,“ said Calagione, referring to his lauded Midas Touch beer. For Noble Rot, 49.5 percent of the fermentable sugars used come from grapes, while the other 50.5 percent are from grains.
Dogfish opted to use the must of viognier and pinot gris grapes, sourced from Alexadria Nicole Cellars in Washington, for the project. Must is freshly pressed grapes that contain the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. He said that during the brewing process, the viognier grapes are added before fermentation, while the pinot gris grapes are added after.
Knowing how grapes react with beer yeasts, he says, was a key reason why he chose viognier and pinot gris grapes.
Calagione said the brewery has been working on Noble Rot for roughly a year. About 150 gallons of liquid was dedicated to testing in order to see which types of yeasts would react best with the grape sugars.
Noble Rot hits shelves this week in about 27 states, coast to coast. To see where it’s available in your area, check out the Fish Finder feature at www.dogfish.com
Dogfish Head Noble Rot (9 percent alcohol by volume, $13 for a 750-ml bottle)
APPEARANCE: The liquid pours a lustrous gold color, flawless in clarity with a brilliancy that resembles a fine Sauternes wine. The brew is topped by a finger of ivory head formed by tight, Champagne-like bubbles that produce a lacing that dissipates but is revived with a casual swirl of the glass.
AROMA: Fans of Pinot Gris will enjoy the nose as a pleasant bouquet of grapes, pears and apples emerge, followed by a more subtle orange-blossom honey note.
PALATE: From the start it’s clear the grapes are the star of this symphony. Apple and pear notes start off the show and are soon joined by a dash of sourness on the midpalate that nicely balances the sweet start. The chewy finish is crisp and direct, but rounds off with a sweetly malty tone and a slight tinge of Creamsicle. A gem of a beer with a worldliness that will lead you to believe you have been transported to Alsace.
CIGAR PAIRING: We found this brew played well with smoke, especially medium-bodied sticks. Both the Illusione Epernay Le Taureau (our No. 3 Cigar of 2011) and the La Reloba Selección Mexico brought out more of the beer’s sour notes. Additionally, the Le Taureau’s smoke intensified the beer’s mild hop flavor, while the La Reloba boosted the slight creamy finish to more of a meringue.
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