Hybrid Theory: Bellwoods, Blends & Breaking Barriers

Apologies if you are disappointed to have clicked on this link to find out that it’s nothing to do with Linkin Park’s first album.

As a wine enthusiast I sometimes look at the world of beer and get a bit jealous.

While we are working hard to break down barriers that can alienate younger people from truly appreciating wine, the worldwide beer community just keeps on growing. Apparently fermented hops are considered a lot cooler than fermented grapes.

Beer production is generally easier and can be less time consuming than the vinification process, which means more and more people can try their hand at brewing. I’m not saying that brewing beer is easy, but there are a lot of people jumping on the ‘craft’ bandwagon and making bang average beer. Then you have the professionals who truly understand how to make a good product.

Making beer arguably doesn’t need as much space as wine, doesn’t need as much time to age and it is common practice for breweries to import hops and malts from different corners of the world whereas, with wine, it would be unthinkable for an Australian vigneron to import grapes from Italy. In many countries there are laws surrounding wine and the requirements for it to be classified as AOC, DOC, VQA* etc.

A friend of mine was telling me about his acquaintance from Languedoc, France, who has been making ‘strange’ blends. They’re absolutely delicious and, in the winemaker’s opinion, better than the wines he makes from traditional blends. However, because they don’t fulfil the certain criteria to become AOC status, he has to label them Vin De Pays (which is only a step above ‘table wine’). This means that he has to lower the price because people simply wouldn’t buy it for its true value.

I feel that, although we have a long way to go in the wine industry, these barriers and preconceptions of wine will be broken down. The fact that a lot of craft breweries open up in cities gives beer a bigger urban appeal and I’ve noticed the changes in attitudes towards drinking beer around Europe and North America. People are increasingly going to the tap room at a brewery rather than just going to a pub or bar. It’s becoming trendy and these brewers are turning their breweries into more than just fermentation houses by making them venues and creating a whole experience around their products.

For a few years there has been a trend surrounding natural wine, specifically ‘orange wine’ (white wine that has had extended contact with the grape skins, turning it a darker orangey colour). People like Action Bronson, who feature it on shows like Fuck, That’s Delicious, add to its appeal.

After he mentioned ‘Susucaru’ (a Sicilian, natural, volcanic red wine, made by Frank Cornelisson) was his favourite wine, so many people ordered it that it completely sold out. These are really encouraging signs.

Another really indication of progression is that some breweries are really pushing the boundaries and thinking outside of the box. I was recently with Emma Wojick of Bellwoods Brewery in Toronto. Emma, her husband and I were catching up over beer and pizza when she introduced me to the ‘Bellwoods Motley Cru’. This is a wild ale, which has been aged for two years and parts of Gewürztraminer vines/grapes and off cuts from the local Niagara wine region have been added to it while maturing.

The beer itself was amazing.

It had aromas of a natural wine, like a bonfire, and when I took a sip I was hit with floral notes and tastes of citrus fruits that you would expect from a hoppy beer. Then there was almost a hint of sweetness similar to what you’d find in a glass of Gewürztraminer. The finish was long, crisp and refreshing. I’d never had anything quite like it.

Bellwoods have a variety of different beers that incorporate elements of winemaking. For example, one in particular is aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It’s great to see crossovers in the beer and wine world and I wholeheartedly celebrate it.

If someone drinks a beer that has been aged in wine barrels or blended with Gewurtztraminer, or any other grape for that matter, and it opens them up to the world of wine; it’s another step towards making wine and the knowledge surrounding it more accessible.

– James

 

* These are examples of appellations, which are “legally defined and protected geographical indications used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown.” – Wikipedia

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