What many people may not know about the head brewmaster and founder of Blue Moon, Keith Villa: he's also a wine enthusiast. In addition to making what's considered the end-all White Belgian ale (with that infamous orange slice to top it off), Villa and his wife make their own wine in their Colorado home. And long before Blue Moon ruled the taps, Villa had the idea to combine his two loves: wine and beer.
Now, after the first idea in 1995 and the testing phase in 2006, Villa's beer-wine hybrid from Blue Moon, the Vintage Collection, is finally getting the attention it deserves. While the Vintage Blonde Ale (made with chardonnay grapes) is on shelves now, 2013 will bring two new "varietals" to the forefront: a cabernet sauvignon-beer blend, and a sauvignon blanc-beer blend. (The Blonde Vintage Ale will be renamed as the Golden Knot and brought back in the summer with a new beer-wine hybrid.) "Back in 1995, we were ahead of our times with the beer-wine hybrid," Villa said over a tasting. "Now, 16 years later, we're back at it."
The two new ales, Proximity (the sauvignon blanc blend) and Impulse (the cabernet sauvignon blend) are sort of puzzlers: is it wine? (It comes in a wine bottle, after all.) Is it beer? (It is carbonated, like a beer.) Villa describes it as a "wine with a beer aftertaste." Traditionally, he said, beer-wine hybrids taste more like beer with a hint of wine; the Vintage collection flips the switch. However, the ales are still technically beer: the ratio of wine grapes to wheat is 49 percent to 51 percent. The true difference is that there's no barley malt in the beer; the wine grapes and juice from the central coast of California are added directly into the fermentation tank with the wheat.
Those looking for a traditional beer may still want to stick with the White Belgians, but those drinking on the adventurous side should appreciate a true switch-up from Blue Moon. Villa recommends pairing the Proximity ale with seafood, particularly sushi, and the Impulse ale with beef dishes or dark chocolate (always a win). The Vintage Collection is beginning to hit shelves, just in time for holiday cooking.