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Wine / Beer Blending Notes

So the next step on from brewing and secondary fermenting the Kiwi saison was to blend it with some Sauvignon Blanc wine from Marlborough, New Zealand. My friend Simon worked for a winery in NZ and amazingly managed to blag us some wine for the purposes of these trials. Thanks very much to the good folks at Saint Clair winery for providing the bottles for sampling.

I decided not only to trial the Sauv/Saison blend (inspired by the Mad fermentationist post) but also to trial some Pinot Noir blended with a Flemish Red I made in August 2015, as well as a porter of mine that soured through my poor sanitation practices that I was trying to rescue instead of chucking down the drain. It’s hard to say goodbye to something you’ve laboured over so much! In this case I was hoping the wine would boost the beer rather than just polish a royal dog turd.

As Simon is an experienced winemaker, I thought it would be great to have him along and show us the basic proceedings of a simple wine blending session. We decided to go fairly simple, with trials blending the wine with the beer at 5, 10, 15 & 20% by volume so for example, we’d add 5ml of wine and 95ml of beer, 10ml plus 90ml and so on. This was all done by using scales (1g/ml) as they’re more accurate than measuring. Only problem is if you add too much it’s difficult to correct if you’re blending directly.  I’d bottled and carbed a litre of each beer a few weeks previous especially for the session. The saison had been conditioning for 3 months with brett in a keg, and the Flemish red had been ageing for around 8 months – and 2 with a small piece of oak wine barrel stave. The sour porter was brewed in November and started souring after about a month.

Saint Clair Malborough Pinot Noir Sauvignon Blanc

The wine was measured out and blended with the beer at the percentages proposed. We had 6 glasses in total for each beer blending session. Taking care to make sure that the glasses were all identical for consistency. The first was unblended beer, the second through to the fifth were beer/wine blends of 5, 10, 15 & 20% by volume, then the final glass was wine only. We didn’t worry too much about blind tasting tests for simplicity’s sake and also because we didn’t have so many glasses, and the purpose wasn’t isolating a specific flavour – more looking for a sweet spot within the blending percentages. Having the ‘naked’ beer and wines as a comparison, then being able to walk upwards through the blend strengths was enough for the purposes of the session.

First up was the Kiwi Saison. The aroma of NZ hops had died down considerably since I had kegged it – not surprisingly after three months in the keg. I also understand that brett can interact with the various hop oils to produce aromas of it’s own. The beer had aged with the brett very well, there were still some classic saison peppery notes, however there was a light fruity aroma on the nose reminiscent of apricot, as well as a light tartness present. All in all, I was very pleased with the results and it was one of the best saisons I’d brewed to date. The NZ Sauv Blanc was a classic example of the wine – one of my favourites: minerals, passion fruit, lime on the nose, a real fruity punch. Light, crisp and refreshing. Gorgeous.

Tasting the beer in the 5-10-15-20 steps was a very interesting process. At 5%, the wine aromas were perceptible but not really adding too much, at 10% the aroma starts to come into play, at 15% the blend was perfect – a wonderful interplay between the fruity/pepper of the beer and the bright, zesty aromas of the wine. At 20%, the wine overwhelms the beer flavour. There was quite a strong cutoff here and everyone agreed on the 15% as being just right.

The sour porter was a bit of a rescue case. The aromas were a mix of roasted malt, some acidic brightness and something else that wasn’t so nice for me – maybe some parmesan or something funkier. I’m not so familiar with the Pinot Noir grape, and expected a fruitier wine based on two bottles I’d recently had from Naked Wines. The Saint Clair pinot is a much more subtle beast. As Simon mentioned – it’s a wine comparable to old world wines like French Burgundy. Complex with a moderate body, the aroma is subtle and delicate. I was worried that the wine would be overwhelmed by the beer, and unfortunately a wine with a full-bodied fruity hit was what was needed for the sour porter. We found that 20% was the sweet spot for this one. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to mask that unknown aroma, although it did improve the beer, I didn’t think it right to throw away such a large amount of good wine to improve a below average beer. We decided that maybe it was worth trying with a punchier, fruitier red wine. I’m either going to do that, chuck some rosemary in, or just ditch the batch and chalk it up to experience.

As a side note, I’d put aside a gallon of the Flemish red to age with some damsons and was hoping that this bottle might be the magic bullet to go with the sour porter. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and it was still a bit naff. The damson aroma seemed very muted after chilling in the fridge and even when we warmed it up, it didn’t seem to make much difference. A turd is but a turd, by any other blend, it seems.

wine beer blending session

The Flemish red I had more hope for. The beer itself had been massively improved by the addition of an oak stave. The sweet vanilla aromas really rounded the beer out a lot and made what seemed quite a simple malt/lactic tartness on the nose into something more complex and satisfying. We found something similar in this case as well, there was a sweet spot that we all agreed on, around the 10% mark. The wine added some depth, a slight astringency as well as an amazing red tint to the beer, however, at 15-20%, the wine overpowered the beer, pushing those vanilla notes down and masking their presence.

I had considered blending the wines into the keg but I’m going to blend a couple of gallons of the saison and the Flemish red and a keep a couple of gallons of them without the wine blended in to see if they’ll age differently in the bottle and have another side by side comparison to do in several months when they’re ready. Watch this space!

I’ve included the Flemish red recipe below. After primary fermentation with WYeast Abbey 1214, it was aged with a vial each of White Labs Berliner Weisse blend WLP630 (I needed to use it up!) and White Labs WLP655 Belgian Sour Mix for around 8 months.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
23 L 60 min 10.275584 13.469416 1.063 1.016 6.275050
Actuals 0 0

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
Flanders Red Ale 23 B 1.048 - 1.057 1.012 - 1.014 10 - 25 10 - 16 0 - 0 0 - 0 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Belgian Pilsen Malt 2 kg 30.89
UK Munich Malt 1.8 kg 27.8
UK Vienna Malt 1.8 kg 27.8
German CaraMunich I 250 g 3.86
Belgian Special B 125 g 1.93
UK Light Crystal 500 g 7.72

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Australian Helga 20 g 60 min Boil Leaf 5.5

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
Wyeast 1214-Belgian Ale 74% 0°C - 0°C

Mash

Step Temperature Time
Rest at 66°C 60 min

Fermentation

Step Time Temperature
Aging 0 days 0°C

Notes

14ml of Lactic acid to add.