A Little Oenobeer History...

Updated: Mar 7, 2019

The first commercially produced grape beer was likely Vigneronne from Cantillon. On the brewery’s website it states the name Vigneronne Cantillon was given in 1987. The beer is comprised of a two-year-old lambic with either muscat or chardonnay grapes. Since it takes two years to produce, the first bottling was likely released in 1989, though brewer Jean-Pierre Van Roy was experimenting with a white grape lambic as early as the 1970’s.

Cantillon also produces St. Lamvinus, a lambic/wine hybrid, that was first bottled in 1995. It was produced irregularly for several years, but it is now bottled annually. The grapes used in the beer were originally Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but have switched from Belair grapes to now Cabernet Sauvignon.

The first year-round commercially produced grape beer was Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch, which debuted in 2000. Based on the research of archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern, this beer aimed to reproduce a beverage found in the tomb of King Midas. Analyzing the dried compounds in the 2,700-year-old drinking vessel Dr. McGovern concluded the ingredients included grapes, barley, honey and saffron. At a dinner honoring the late beer authority, Michael Jackson, Dr. McGovern challenged a group of brewers to produce a beverage based on his research. Sam Caligione, the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, ultimately triumphed and a friendship was born.

In 2006, they teamed up again to produce another grape beer called Chateau Jiahu. This ale is based on 9,000-year-old pottery sherds found in Northern China and contains orange blossom honey, rice, barley malt, hawthorn fruit and muscat grapes. To this date it is the oldest confirmed alcoholic beverage, though alcoholic drinks were certainly produced prior to that time.

Birrificio Montegioco in Val Grue near Tortona, Italy lies on the ancient border between Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy to the west of Milan. Here they brew two grape beers which were some of the first to be produced in Italy.

The Ti Bir, made with Timorasso grapes was first brewed in 2006. Later, brewer Riccardo Franzosi created his Open Mind beer using Croatina grape must. Riccardo buys his grapes directly from growers in the hills and valleys surrounding his brewery. The grapes are de-stemmed, crushed, then briefly heated to reduce the populations of wild yeast on the skins of the fruit. The cooked must is then added to an already-fermented blonde ale. A second fermentation begins and after a few weeks rest the beer is transferred into barrels for additional aging. Franzosi uses a local dialect term metodo cadrega {may-toe-dough} {ka-dray-ga} to describe this part of the process. Metodo cadrega means “chair method”, meaning you sit down and wait for the beer to do its thing.

One of the better-known grape beers in Italy is produced by Birrificio Barley on the island of Sardinia. Opened in August of 2006, they first made their BB10 that same year. A dark, rich Russian Imperial Stout weighing in at 10% abv the BB10 is made with the local Cannonau grapes.

Not far from Birrificio Montegioco is another brewery called Loverbeer. It is a tiny operation that was started by Walter Loverier in 2009. From the beginning he made three grape beers, Beer Bera, D’Uva Beer and Nebiulin-a. They use barbera, freisa and nebbiolo grapes respectively. All three brews are sour ales and weren’t made as experiments, but form the foundation of the brewery. All of these beers take inspiration from the fruited lambics of Belgium.

875 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All