Take a brewer, a winemaker and a few bunches of grapes and the result is two very different glasses of Oregon Muscat.
In 2012, John House the winemaker behind Ovum, specializing in esoteric, Alsatian-style white wines, and Alex Ganum, the man behind Portland microbrewery Upright, shared a couple of tons of Muscat grapes and fermented sibling beverages.
Ganum had been itching to make a Muscat lambic, a historic style of sour beer fermented spontaneously in oak vats with the addition of Muscat grapes, but it wasn't as easy as he had expected. The brewer needed whole berries without stems and he then spent a long day hand-destemming the grapes into neutral-oak casks.
“I thought it was going to be really easy. I thought, ‘How long could this take?’” he recalls. “That turned into a 14-hour day. We finally convinced some friends to come over and help us out.”
House gave Ganum a hand and remembers the day more fondly.
“We just drank beer and listened to music on vinyl,” he says, sounding like your typical laid-back Oregon winemaker.
After barrel- and bottle-conditioning, Ovum released 107 cases of 2012 Eola Springs Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Suspension Muscat and Upright Brewing released 98 cases of “Jeux d’eau” in the spring of 2014.
The reaction from the beverage intelligentsia has been predictably positive, with California’s K&L Wine Merchants and chic restaurants such as Chicago’s Alinea requesting allocations of both the wine and the beer.
The wine is fragrant and spicy and sits at 11.3 percent alcohol; the beer is sour, bitter and pungent, with an alcohol level of 6.5 percent. Both are sold in 750ml bottles for approximately $20 to $24.
While sales of Muscat wine have soared in the last five years, it is Ganum who can’t keep his Muscat in stock. “We sold almost the whole batch our opening night and we had a three-bottle limit,” he says.
“This is the irony,” grumbles winemaker House. “There are more beer geeks out there who will line up for a three-bottle allocation. This is a $20 bottle of beer! It’s amazing.”
Still, neither producer has been deterred by his first attempt to bridge the wine-beer divide. Although they lost their Muscat source in 2013, they’ve got their sights set on some old-vine Gewurztraminer for 2014.
We’re willing to bet there will be free beer for anyone who volunteers to destem.