Written by Tom Becham
The argument over the superiority of wine or beer has been around for decades, centuries, possibly millennia. But the line between the two beverages has not always been a clear one. Dogfish Head Brewing makes a brew called Midas Touch, based on ingredients found in a 2700 year-old drinking vessel excavated in Asia Minor. The beverage is made with barley, honey and grapes. It is, essentially a hybrid of beer, wine and mead.
Now, I’m not sure if Midas Touch set off the trend in the past couple of years for brewers to make beer/wine hybrids, but most beer geeks are aware of such things on the market. In particular, beers made with “wine must” have been more and more common sights in your local beer shops around the United States. One of the more common is also a Dogfish Head effort, Noble Rot. It is essentially a Belgian Tripel with added grape must.
So, the desire to merge beer with wine is not a new idea. What IS new is Green Flash’s latest effort.
Green Flash is one of the Second Wave of craft brewers, in Northern San Diego County, California. As seems to be the law in California, Green Flash made its name making aggressively hoppy IPAs and Pale Ales. Lately, they’ve tried to flex their brewing muscles with their Cellar 3 Series. As is seemingly a new standard with craft brewers, Green Flash has mostly concentrated on bourbon-barrel aged stouts and the usual suspects. And their efforts, despite their extreme competence with standard brews, have been somewhat hit-or-miss.
However, with Oculus Sauvage Belgian-Style IPA made with Black and Red Currants and Brett (there’s a standard Oculus Sauvage, too, without fruit or brett) and aged in Red Wine Barrels, Green Flash has achieved the ultimate beer/wine hybrid. And they have done so without using any grapes whatsoever.
The 750ml cork-and-cage bottle opens with a sharp pop, and the smell from the wine barrels is immediately known. The pour produces a small, fizzy, short-lived head. The color is a bit light for what one would expect. More like a cherry juice, rather than the deep red of wine.
The aroma is strong on red stone fruit, less so on black fruit. The brett also gives a slight whiff of horse blanket, just to let you know this is actually a beer. Some very faint hops are noticeable.
The taste? Incredibly complex and for all the world like a Cabernet Sauvignon. It is lightly fruity, yet deep. The currants and brett lend acidity to break up the sweet fruit taste, and the hops (this is an IPA, even if it doesn’t feel like it) provide enough bitterness to mimic that found in a Cab Sauv from the seeds and grape skin. Even the alcohol (10.1% ABV) is a good approximation of an equivalent wine.
This won’t be satisfying for every beer geek. But if you’re a beer geek who also likes wine, and appreciates the craft of the brewer, check this one out. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s a real eye-opener, and extremely well done.
Tom Becham has been writing for PGA for many years. In fact he’s been writing so long he wears the hat to cover baldness, or the antenna that grows out of elderly Martian’s heads: we’re not sure which, but we’re glad he writes for us.