When wine is made from grapes and beer from malted barley, the question of whether there is a cross-over in flavours between the two is surely a non-starter. But add in country wines made by the home winemaker using fruits that aren’t grapes and flavoured with an A-Z of herbs and spices and the question starts to sound like there might be something in it.
It’s all in the grains
Beer brewers are just as adventurous in their choice of ingredients and the idea that beer can only be made from the sprouted and cooked grains of barley infused with the flowers of the hop vine is consigned to history (even the German beer ‘purity’ law the Rheinheitsgebot allows exceptions).
Bavarian Wheat beers can have flavours of orange zest and coriander seed similar to that found in wine made with Seville oranges (the book First Steps in Winemaking has a recipe), while Rye IPA has an earthy flavour also found in country wines made using underground vegetables like carrots, swedes or potatoes (Tip: store these wines for at least 5 years to allow this distinctive flavour to mellow). Rice is another grain used in beer making and that can result in light herby and lemony flavours rather like wines made with lemon balm leaves or hawthorn blossom.
Is it really a wine recipe?
The other way in which wine can taste like beer is when traditional beer ingredients are used in the recipe. Infusing wine with hops has now become fashionable (see blog Right-on wine: Dry-hopping your wine kit) while older country wine recipes sometimes start off in a similar way to beer by boiling hops in water for an hour and then using the cold, strained liquid as the wine base (see C.J.J. Berry recipe for Hop Wine in First Steps in Winemaking).
Crushed or ground grains also feature in many home wine recipes where they are steeped in water along with fruits and flavourings and then fermented with yeast like other just-fruit wines. Author of First Steps C.J.J. Berry tells us that wheat in your wine recipe will add ‘bite’, while barley adds smoothness, rice will cause your wine to ferment a lot faster and rye should be left to the beer brewers.
Fermenting both fruits and grains together can be tricky as you now have different sorts of sugars and so using a dual-purpose yeast like Young’s Dried Active Yeast to convert both the grain maltose and fruit fructose into alcohol. You could even try a Kviek Farmhouse beer yeast which can add tropical fruit flavours and even ferment up to 16% alcohol by volume (see Ebbergarden). For tips on how to use Kviek then follow Josh Charig’s tips in his video for KegThat.com.
What about Barley Wine?
There is a strange category of beer known as Barley Wine. With an alcoholic strength of between 8-10%, this type of high alcohol beer has almost as much alcohol as wine (German wines such as Hock still have 9% alcohol) and so the name is probably derived from this. These rich tasting beers can still be bought (Thomas Hardy’s Ale – the British answer, supposedly, to Bordeaux or Burgundy wine – plus Gold Label Barley Wine sold in 4x330ml cans at many supermarkets).