Mar 26, 2022
As far as we can tell, many of the earliest beers ever made were actually beer-wine hybrids, brewed out of both grain and fruit. Fast-forward 10,000 years or so, and beers made with grapes are once again in fashion. Sometimes called “Oenobeers,” after oenology, the science of winemaking, Grape Beers or Grape Ales are becoming more popular in a lot of beer regions, especially in Italy and other wine-loving countries.
In this episode, I’m talking to Alessandra Agrestini, the president of the jury at a new tasting competition, the Italian Grape Ale Beer Challenge, which took place near the end of 2021 in Turin, Italy. (Full disclosure: I served as one of the competition’s international judges.) Alessandra has been active in beer judging and beer education in Italy for quite a while — she and I first met at the Birra dell’Anno beer competition some 10 years ago.
In our conversation, we discuss beer-wine hybrids, the current Italian beer scene, and beer travel, as well as beer education, food and beer pairings, and Italian Pilsner. We also touch on the notion of styles, and wonder if it’s right to call all modern beer-wine hybrids “Italian” Grape Ales, regardless of where they are made. There is some justification for that claim: Italy probably produces more Grape Ales than any other country. The competition’s website has a map showing more than 220 Grape Ales from over 130 breweries in Italy. However, Italy wasn’t the first country to create modern beer-wine hybrids. Not all Grape Ales in Italy are produced in the same way, and there are wide variations in strength, color, flavor, aroma, acidity, and sweetness, which makes it hard to argue for Italian Grape Ale as a style unto itself.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out the website ItalianGrapeAle.org. The competition is open to entries from around the world, so if brewers you know make a great Grape Ale, Grape Lager, Oenobeer, or some other beer-wine hybrid, tell ’em to send it in this fall. And after this interview finishes, stick around for an update with the names of the competition winners.