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Archive for April, 2012

Dogs + Fishes, Beer + Wine

Shanken News Daily recently alerted us to Dogfish Noble Rot. It is:

a wine/beer hybrid that combines traditional barley, hops, water and yeast with winegrapes. Named for the grape fungus botrytis, which is associated with Sauternes and Tokaji dessert wines, Noble Rot uses Viognier and Pinot Gris grapes sourced from Washington’s Alexandria Nicole Cellars. The 9%-abv offering will be available in about 27 states this week, priced at $13 a 750-ml.

The statement of composition on this product looks a bit redundant, with two references to grape must — but upon closer review it nicely underscores the distinction about adding the grape must before and after fermentation. I wonder if the must added before fermentation could or should be considered wine. Dogfish explains:

The first addition is unfermented juice, known as must, from viognier grapes that have been infected with a benevolent fungus called botrytis. This noble rot reduces the water content in the grapes while magnifying their sweetness and complexity. The second is pinot gris must intensified by a process called dropping fruit, where large clusters of grapes are clipped to amplify the quality of those left behind. “This is the absolute closest to equal meshing of the wine world and the beer world thats ever been done commercially,” says Dogfish’s Sam Calagione.

The Washington Post apparently saw this beer a long time ago and added many crucial details:

Thousands of years ago, notes Sam Calagione, our distant ancestors didn’t draw a semantic line in the sand between beer and wine. Whatever fermentables they had, whether grain or fruit, went into a common pot to produce their unique tipples.

What is noteworthy is that the grapes and the grain each contribute about half of the fermentable sugars.

Given that beer and wine are taxed and regulated differently, did Calagione get any flack from alcohol regulatory authorities? “The only challenge was that the TTB [Tax and Trade Bureau] wanted a better description of at what point we added the grapes,” noted Calagione. For the record, the botrytis-infected must (the unfermented grape juice) is added after the boil, and the pinot gris juice post-fermentation, primarily for extra aroma.

Calagione estimated that he made about 4,400 cases of Noble Rot and expected it to linger on shelves until May. He anticipated prices of $12-13 for a 750-mililiter bottle. That will scarcely recoup his costs, he added. “I paid $62,000 alone to transport a tanker truck of temperature-controlled grape must from coast to coast,” he noted.

Aside from the joy of experimentation, Calagione confesses that he had another reason for producing this beer: “We always wanted to see if a beer with the word ‘rot’ in the name would actually sell.”

We’ve seen plenty of beers and whiskies aged in wine barrels, and beers that look like wine and we will be on the prowl for actual beers with actual wine added. It sounds better than wine with beer added.

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Label Flexibility

TTB has been working on a new COLA form, with new and more flexible rules about what may change without seeking a new label approval. TTB announced this in the January 13, 2012 Newsletter and the Federal Register two weeks prior.

The new rules, if/when implemented, could allow a huge variety of big and small changes — without the need to submit, wait, haggle.

Here is the draft form. For example, the new rules (at page 3) would allow you to:

  1. Move mandatory around. This is at category 2. This would allow you to move VODKA from the bottom of the front label to the top of the front label, for example. It would not allow you to move VODKA from the front to the back. (The draft form does not seem to make it clear, about whether it’s also okay to reposition non-mandatory. It would be very strange if okay to move the important stuff but not the less important stuff.)
  2. Change colors. This is at category 3.
  3. Add/delete/change a QR code. This is at category 22.
  4. Add/delete/change social media icons. This is at category 25.
  5. Add/delete/change information about awards. This is at category 26. It remains a bad idea to announce  “Award for most antioxidants in a Cabernet.”
  6. Add/delete/change holiday/seasonal graphics/salutations. This is at category 27.
  7. Cover all sizes with one approval. This is at category 9. This could avoid the need for three separate COLAs — above 3 liters, below 237 ml., and in the middle (as on the current form at category 4).

All of this is in addition to the many other changes that have been allowed for years. For the sake of comparison, the 2011 form is here. Some of these are big changes and should help a lot. TTB’s comment period ended on February 27, 2012, but if you missed the boat or have an opinion, please set it forth below.

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