Co-ferments a marriage of beer and wine

Brewers and winemakers are commingling like never before.

Brews fermented with a blend of malt and grape juice, aka co-ferments, are slowly making their way onto the market.

Cupitt Brewing’s head brewer, Liam Jackson, is one brewer taking the hybrid plunge. Formerly of Sydney’s Staves Brewery, Jackson started as head brewer at Cupitt’s boutique winery, brewery, fromagerie and restaurant in November last year, and has lost no time in working with the owners to create some co-ferments.

Jackson said that he’s wanted to make a co-ferment for some time, and had the idea in his head before taking the job at Cupitt’s.

“The first time I tried a co-ferment was at Avery Brewing Company in Colorado.”

“It was with that in mind that before I started the job I thought I might have the opportunity to do something like that down here.”

Located three hours south of Sydney on the New South Wales coast, Cupitt’s has been operating as a working winery alongside a thriving restaurant business for 10 years. It’s brewery was built in 2014 and is a tiny operation with a 250-litre system. The brewing business has largely flown under the radar, because most consumers associate the Cupitt brand with its wine portfolio and restaurant, and because most of the beer brewed is served on site.

Jackson said he liked the idea of being able to play around with so many things at Cupitt’s.

“Our co-ferments are one of the more unique products we make here, which is possible given the variety of things we do on site.”

“We also have a fromagerie, which was built two years ago, and have played around with using whey in our beers and beer in our cheese making processes.”

Before undertaking the project, Jackson along with brothers Tom and Wally Cupitt, had a look to see what other co-ferments were on the market. While there wasn’t much out there, Jackson did say that there were a few people “playing around with this now”.

“Essentially it was about what grapes I could use and how do we think those grapes would work with the beer component.”

“What we saw from a couple co-ferments out there, was it was typical for it to be a soured beer.”

“We didn’t want to do that because as soon as your go down the road of purposefully souring beer, then it’s just another level of processing and brewery management that we wouldn’t rule out for some time in the future, but we aren’t ready to jump into now.”

Jackson said that rather than thinking about long sour-aged varieties, they decided to focus on nice pairings – of varietal grape characters to a base beer.

The Arneis co–ferment is a beer fermented with Belgian ale yeast and Arneis grape juice sourced from Orange. One day into the fermentation with a Belgian ale yeast, 30 per cent Arneis grape juice was added, which was pressed on site that morning. Initial aromatics are of esters and spices associated with Belgian yeast, followed by Arneis characters of melon, pear and almond.

“We basically crossed our fingers because we weren’t sure how a brewing yeast strain would deal with the different sugar profile of grape juice, but it fermented all the way out.”

“There was quite a union of those Belgian yeast characters with the Arneis characters,” Jackson said.

The Tempranillo co–ferment is a beer fermented with Tempranillo grape must and wild yeast. To create this wild union of beer and wine, 30 per cent partially-fermented Tempranillo was added to the wort and left to ferment with native grape yeast.

The beer component was a pale ale with a low IBU akin to a Hefeweizen. The Tempranillo, sourced from the Hilltops region, adds rich colour and subtle tannins, complemented by raspberry, cherry, dark chocolate and hints of spice.

“We really didn’t know if the naturally occurring wild yeast from the grape skins would hold up against the maltose and sugars in our brewing wort.”

“So, there was definitely that unknown but fortunately it also fermented all the way out.”

Both of Jackson’s co-ferments were carbonated in tank and bottled under pressure.

Current head brewer at Mornington Peninsula Brewery Kristian Martin, is another brewer to experiment with co-ferments. Martin and former Mornington head brewer Andrew Gow trialed their first VinAle Red in 2016.

Their initial experiment didn’t go quite so well, with Martin saying it tasted like bad wine mixed with beer. However, after deciding to put the co-ferment to barrel, Martin said the flavours got a lot more complex and a lot more mellow.

“After putting it to barrel, it actually came out really really good,” he said.

“So, the second year we decided to make it a bigger project.”

Mornington VinAle White, vintage 2017, is made from co-fermented Montalto Moscato juice with Mornington Belgian Golden Ale and comes in at 8.4 per cent ABV. Aged in French Oak Chardonnay barrels from the Barossa Valley, this unique VinAle has delicate aromas of pineapple and guava. A zesty yet textural mouthfeel is followed by a refreshing acidity, crisp green apple flavours and hints of mild spices.

Mornington VinAle Red, vintage 2017, is made from co-fermented Montalto Pinot juice with Mornington Brown Ale and comes in at 7.9 per cent ABV. The brown ale component has been adapted and is a dialled back version of the flagship beer, exhibiting less hoppy bitterness and roasted malt characters.

Aged in French Oak Pinot Noir barrels, this VinAle is cherry red with big aromas of stone fruit, rose and fruit leather. VinAle Red has a vibrant, yet individual character and a textural mouthfeel with flavours of Turkish Delight, chocolate and nuts.

Both of Mornington’s co-ferments undergo secondary fermentation in bottle.

Little Bang Brewery’s ‘Fancy’ Farmhouse Ale is another co-ferment to hit the market. Co-fermented with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, it has been self-described as “a fresh, purple drop, that tastes like beer and grapes”.

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