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Grapes of Mash

Grapes of Mash

A QUICK LOOK AT BEER STYLES FOR WINE DRINKERS

What’s one to drink, getting back to Halifax, after a day of vineyard hopping? Forego the Tidal Bay for a pint of these adventurous yet approachable beers from a couple of Halifax’s top breweries.

I’ve been told by many a winemaker that after a day tending the vines, they reach for a cold beer. I have to agree, having picked and sorted grapes under the sun, nothing refreshes quite like a cold, crisp lager.

The world of indie lagers has certainly evolved well-beyond the iconic moose macro. And lagers are a great jump-off for the adventurous wine drinker as they bear similar traits to many light whites: easy and refreshing, with a crisp finish. Typically, you won’t be bogged down by sweet malt notes or overwhelmed by hop bitterness. Brewers are taking it upon themselves to experiment with techniques from the wine world to create nuanced, unique beers for the more adventurous drinker.

“I am really excited by natural wines right now, as I love some of the characteristics wild yeast can bring,” says Jeremy Taylor, head brewer at 2 Crows Brewing Co., who takes inspiration from nearby wineries. “There is lots of room for overlap in those sorts of flavours between beer, wine, and their production techniques.”

Taylor’s brewing philosophy is one of complexity and drinkability. Though the brewery likes to push the boundaries of a beer’s flavour profile, it’s no gimmick. They simply aim to brew well-made beer. Looking to the work of other breweries around the world and trends in more mature markets, Taylor is quick to note how far Canadian palates have come in the last five years, acknowledging that when he “first got into the beer world, most people were chasing the biggest, hoppiest beers they could brew and consume.  These days it seems there is an appetite for more nuanced flavours.”

Chime is the brew Taylor suggests for wine drinkers looking to get into beer: a barrel-aged sour, conditioned in old Sauvignon Blanc barrels atop a small amount of lemongrass and sea salt. A little out there compared to something like a light lager, Taylor highlights the importance of each ingredient, “the lemongrass is just enough to boost the Sauv Blanc character a touch, and the sea salt does not impart a briny character, but rather just lends to the dryness and drinkability.” Less of a beer to be drunk by the pint, it’s meant for sipping, and, like wine, built for food pairings. Think light fish dishes, grilled poultry, cheese boards.

For Christopher Reynolds, brewer and co-owner of Stillwell Bar and Stillwell Brewing Co., there’s more to look for than just simplicity. He looks to wine characteristics like tannin (that drying sensation akin to an over-steeped tea) and acidity as turning points for a wine drinker. “A mixed fermented saison, like the type we brew is often familiar to those who enjoy brighter white wines, or even acidic natural wines,” explains Reynolds of the use of  yeast and bacteria to create complexity, dryness, and funk.

“We’ll look for beers that might have a kind of tannin-like bitterness, something that is crisp and doesn’t necessarily hang on the palate like the resinous hop character,” adds Reynolds, suggesting beers like their 2019 version of Glou, a mixed fermentation saison using New York Muscat grapes from nearby Benjamin Bridge Winery.

Complexity and depth are added when breweries referment on grape skins. These beers are aged in barrels or foeders (massive wooden vessels), an extremely common ageing technique in winemaking. Refermentation adds finer carbonation reminiscent of champagne: rich, creamy, mouthfeel with a dry finish. Reynolds suggests their Poptones, a secondary fermented, lightly dry-hopped pale ale meant for crushing or contemplation, he hasn’t met anyone who said they didn’t like it, “at least not to my face!”

Explaining that aged beers often lose their bitterness over time, Reynolds and the brew team referment on previously pressed grape pomace, providing “a bit of tannin to help in the finish of a beer, and of course a ton of aroma & flavour.”

Reynolds is a big fan of brewing beers that straddle the lines between beer, cider and wine. “There are a lot of shared fermentation techniques, flavour profiles, and even processes between these three,” something that ensures there’s a style out there to appease any hardened beer, wine, or cider fan Most producers “will drink across the spectrum and get excited about (and influenced by) their colleagues in adjacent worlds.”

This blurring of lines, while not new, is becoming more common, especially in our fruit-filled province. Ciders, wines, and beers are being produced by small producers seeking inspiration from their peers. This translates into intriguing styles with wide appeal. Though it was once tricky to convince a wine drinker to crack a beer, brewers like this are making it a lot easier.

Tristan likes a cold pint when crushing grapes, natural whites while brewing, and a bit of both on his days off.

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