Reviewed: Russian River It Takes A Lot Of Great Beer To Make Great Wine
Official description: There is an old familiar saying in the wine business: “It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine!” Winemakers, cellar workers, and grape pickers alike rarely (if ever) reach for a nice big glass of red wine in the middle of harvest. Wine is quite delicious, but not very refreshing on a hot summer day. The beverage of choice during harvest is BEER! Ice-cold, refreshing and thirst-quenching BEER! The beer in this bottle is a toast to our winemaking friends who work around the clock during harvest to make world-class wine right here in our own backyard! Cheers!
Russian River Brewing Co – Russian River It Takes A Lot Of Great Beer To Make Great Wine – 510ml bottle served in stemless snifter – 5.25% ABV
Russian River abbreviates the name of this beer as “Great Beer/Great Wine” and so will I for this review. This is not a new beer in the sense that we’ve seen this on tap and in bottles a handful of times since 2011. However, what’s inside the bottle seems to change. According to the company’s official Instagram, “This year’s batch of ‘Great Beer/Great Wine’ is a pale ale with Comet, Sabro, Chinook, Cascade and HBC 692 hops.”
When I first tried this beer in 2011, I couldn’t figure out the beer style. On the bottle itself, “ALE” is all you got – unchanged to this day. Saison was thrown out there as a potential style as was American pale ale in the sense of Hill Farmstead’s take on APAs, which are bright and delicate. Then in 2013, visitors to Russian River mentioned that the chalkboard had “Pilsner” written next to it. From 2014-2015 and again in 2018, it was on tap at Russian River as a “Winemakers Session” beer at 4.75%.
I’m sampling Great Beer/Great Wine from a 510ml bottle that I picked up for $6.50 plus tax – pricey for any single bottle of beer in general, but especially pricey for a beer whose contents are a mystery. On the bottom left corner of the label is an easy-to-read bottling date of 8/21/19, which places it as 3 weeks old at the time of writing.
Into my glass, Great Beer/Great Wine is crystal clear, deep golden in color with thick, buttermilk-colored foam that sticks around for several minutes. Bringing up the glass, the aroma is just astounding. At first, it comes off as intensely hoppy with super juicy tangerine and even blood orange coupled with white sage and rain-soaked meadows. As it warms up, pale malty notes come through like angel food cake and iced pound cake. But give it a few moments and it even smells wine barrel-aged for a brief moment. Perhaps it’s because I’m already primed for a barrel-aged beer given the wooden grape press featured on the label. But there’s an odd complexity about the nose that just doesn’t fit with your typical APA. Slight buttery oak and mild saison-like yeast peek through just a bit. It’s one of the best smelling beers I’ve ever experienced.
Flavor-wise, this beer continues to perplex. The body is fully attenuated (super dry) with sweetness essentially nil. But the beer is quite bitter. Without any balancing sugar, that accentuates overall bitterness to an aggressive level – punching hard with perfumey kaffir lime leaves and Curaçao orange peel. Underneath is a barely perceptible base beer that gives you fleeting sourdough bread crust. But given the beer’s drying effect on the palate plus intense bitterness, it does come off as slightly astringent. However, it isn’t egregious, coming across as sharp and woodsy.
The end result is ultra-refreshing and ridiculously clean. With such a light body, you’d expect some roughness around the edges or perhaps some sharp minerality. Instead, Great Beer/Great Wine finishes soft and buoyant in the mouthfeel. It feels like it could be 2% ABV to be honest. In terms of overall beer style, session IPA comes to mind but so does saison and table beer.
Perceived Specs for Russian River It Takes A Lot of Great Beer to Make Great Wine
Good Beer / Good Wine is a pale ale in only the literal sense. It is an ale and it is pale in color. But it is nothing like the very specific style American Pale Ale (APA). Given its extreme dryness, high bitterness, and express purpose of hydrating those working out in the field; Russian River has created a perfect saison in my opinion. This is a quenching, bright beer for gulping down on a hot summer’s day. It’s quite different from anything I expected, but what’s in the bottle is nothing short of miraculous.
Allagash River Trip is quite similar as is De La Senne Taras Boulba, which is probably the best-known beer to successfully pair high dryness with high bitterness. Bright, modern saisons like Prairie Hop and Standard from Prairie Artisan Ales are good matches. Well-known APAs like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are highly dissimilar. Maine Beer Co’s a tiny beautiful something gets closer than most other APAs to matching Great Beer/Great Wine, but it’s only about halfway there in terms of dryness and sharp bitterness.
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