What’s A Vinoveza Ale?

What’s A Vinoveza Ale?

This week we released Nouveau Blanc Vinoveza Ale (along with two additional wine barrel-aged beers – Vagaberry Wild Ale and Melodreamatic Saison Ale). It’s the third vinoveza we’ve released in our barrel-aged bottle program, and anytime we release one of these grape juice-fermented beers, we get the question: what exactly IS a vinoveza ale? Read on below for a Q&A with Quality/Sensory Manager Jackie Beard, going in depth on all things vinoveza!

Our short answer to “what’s a vinoveza?”: a new style of beer, fermented with wine grape juice made during crush. Is there a longer answer?
The name “Vinoveza” comes from the Spanish words for wine (vino) and beer (cerveza): so in short, it’s a wine-beer hybrid. Specifically, these are beers which get some of their alcohol and a lot of their flavor from fermenting wine grape juice (usually around 20%) mixed in with barley sugars and are fully fermented with brewer’s yeast.

We’re beer nerds here, so pardon our confusion on wine: when we say “wine grape juice made during crush”, what exactly does that mean?
Unlike beer, which is brewed year-round, wines are only fermented during the wine grape harvest (aka “the crush”) which happens between late August and October each year in Washington State. Crushing is literally where wineries use a press to squeeze the grape juice out. Crush is the only time of year to work with fresh grape juice (unless you freeze some for later) if you want to co-ferment the juice with grain sugars. 

Did our team invent this? Or was this an existing type of beer?
The original beer-wine hybrids were saison or wild ales aged in wine barrels, which is traditional for Belgian beers and has been happening in the US since the start of the craft beer movement. We invented the name "Vinoveza", but we didn’t invent co-fermenting grapes and grain; we started hearing about East Coast brewers experimenting with wine grapes around 2015 and the trend made its way to the Bay Area a couple of years after. Some breweries have termed them “oenobeers” or “vino-esque beers,” but we like the name "Vinoveza" and hope that other brewers will start using it too as they experiment with this style.

Since Bale Breaker is located right next to Washington’s oldest viticultural region, the Yakima Valley AVA, and smack in the middle of its second oldest and largest AVA, Columbia Valley, we wanted to put our own spin on this new style while collaborating with local wineries. We have incredible access to some of the country’s highest quality vineyards as well as local knowledge about each year’s growing conditions and terroir. By working with winemakers and grape growers, we’re able to access fresh-pressed wine grape juice and to collaborate with wineries to get grape juice that meets our needs for a healthy and interesting fermentation. It’s the same philosophy that we use with fresh hops: get them when they’re fresh, use them right away, and collaborate with the growers to create innovative and unique beers! 

Nouveau Blanc is our third vinoveza ale, after Vielle Rouge and Vielle Blanc. What’s different about this release vs those previous releases?
The name is a clue: “Vielle” means old or aged in French, and “Nouveau” means new or fresh. Our vielle vinovezas are aged in wine barrels after fermentation for 10-16 months and released in bottle only after gaining some complexity from the barrels and Brettanomyces wild yeast. The nouveau vinoveza, in contrast, is released without barrel aging, which captures more of the fruity and spicy aromas from the brewer’s yeast and the delicate wine grape aromas which can get lost during wine barrel aging. This is the first year that we’ve released a nouveau vinoveza, and our team is excited about the aroma complexity and how it balances beer and wine characters.

Any good pairing suggestions for these beers?
So many! These beers are fantastic with food because they’re crisp and dry but have lower acidity and tannins than wine. High tannin or acid levels can make wine pairings a challenge.

I love the Nouveau Blanc vinoveza with dishes with goat or sheep’s cheese, like a walnut and pear salad with manchego or brussels sprouts with chevre cream sauce; it really brings out the beer’s ripe peach notes. 

Both of the white vinovezas are great with pad thai, chicken tamales, or mild white fish like tilapia, halibut or cod.  Watch the heat, though! Without residual sweetness, these beers will pass along or slightly enhance whatever spice is on the food.

Like a light red wine, Vielle Rouge vinoveza can stand up to a little more flavor and is awesome paired with beef and sesame broccoli or more flavorful game meats like turkey, duck, and elk.

What can we expect next in our line of Vinoveza ales?
We’re planning to release our 2020 vintage of vielle vinovezas this weekend, which feature Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for the white and red, respectively. Then we’ll be back at it with more experimentation during the 2021 crush!

Be sure to swing by the taproom this week to pick up these bottled beers – we’ll have them all available for you to try, as well as bottles to go.

Posted April 23, 2021

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