A wine connoisseur loves the complexities and subtleties of a good glass of wine — a balance of sweetness, bitterness, acidity, and real body — which a good beer also sports. Fermentation-driven flavors found in craft beer are just as exciting as those found in wine. Craft beer can be just as elegant, just as refined, just as explosive and just as flavorful — especially if it’s aged in spent wine barrels. Our Craft Beer Crosscut 1.10.18: A Flight of Pinot Noir highlights four craft beers aged in Pinot Noir wine barrels — plus Fullerton’s 2015 Three Otters Pinot Noir for comparison.
Obscura is Latin for “shadowy, indistinct” and is the term used for Telegraph Brewing’s rarest offerings and most experimental beers. These highly sought-after barrel-aged and wild-fermented beers compose the Santa Barbara brewery’s Obscura line and have received some of the highest accolades in the beer industry. Obscura Vulpine (meaning “like a fox”) is a sour red ale aged in Foxen Vineyards Pinot Noir barrels until it is ripe with black cherry and oak aromas that are rounded out by a touch of wine tannin in the finish.
Former Wingman Brewers and Buoy Beer Co. brewer Mike Dempster opened farmhouse-focused Mirage Beer Company late last year in Seattle. Mirage’s first bottle, Drie Valleien, is a 6.1 percent saison aged in Pinot Noir barrels from the Willamette Valley with wild cultures from the Senne and Sonoma Valleys. Nose is modest Pinot Noir earthy grape with a hoppy saison underneath. On the tongue, it’s wonderfully musky, deep and creamy with a soft fruity character — strawberry, grape and maybe a hint of tart cherry. Nice bitter note emerges at the finish.
7% ABV, 10 IBU
pFriem Family Brewers’ Flanders Red Ale, a Pinot Noir barrel-aged ale, made in the old tradition of West Flanders in Belgium, is a showstopper. This deep, layered beer spent 18 months in oak barrels, getting a little leather and a lot of tart cherry. There’s some raspberry and woodiness, and the finish is so dry it reminds us more of Pinot Noir than any other beer made in the Northwest. Take one sip, savor the tart finish and you’ll understand how one beer could charm a country.
10.5% ABV, 25 IBU
With apologies to The Abyss, this oud bruin is a favorite of Deschutes Brewery’s Reserve Series. The Dissident is a Flanders-style sour brown ale, sometimes referred to as an “Oud Bruin” (old brown) beer. It’s an earthy beer, soured through the use of a percentage of beer brewed with wild yeast. Deschutes brews The Dissident with Oregon Montmorency cherries, and it is fermented and aged in pinot noir and cabernet oak barrels for 18 months. A wonderful dark cherry aroma immediately fills the room followed by strong oak presence and spicy, earthy yeast are present behind the cherry. The Dissident has great tart cherry flavor that is complemented by notes of red wine, oak and vanilla. The use of dark Belgian candi sugar provided a bit of molasses.
Three otters have rested prominently on the Fullerton family crest since the 13th century. Fullerton’s Three Otters Pinot Noir is handled very gently in the cellar allowing the nuances of the delicate fruit to be preserved. The winemakers prefer pump-overs versus punch-downs to allow for a smooth extraction and softening effect on the tannin. They age most of the wine in tank, rounded out about 25 percent of the blend in barrel. The result is a pretty mix of savory herb, black cherry and molasses flavors with a sleek mouthfeel while delivering lovely length as well as moderately good depth.