As a man who’s crushed more beers than days he’s breathed air, I can say with some certainty that one of the saddest sights is a gusher.
The sodden drama usually unfolds like this: You pay a pretty penny for bottle-conditioned this or that, perhaps a saison treated with a yeast strain plucked from an apple orchard or the hair of a brewer’s chinny chin chin. The elixir looks stunning in that wine bottle, Champagne-corked like a New Year’s Eve sparkler. You ease off the cap or slide out a cork as delicately as a surgeon’s scalpel.
Upon release, oxygen kissing carbonated insides, the beer froths like a rabid critter. You grab napkins, a rag, palms pooling with pricey beer. When gushing slows and you at last pour a glass, the liquid is less bubbly than a depressed cheerleader. What’s a beer without carbonation? Can beer be, well, beer without serious spritz?
These thoughts quick-stepped through my brain as I eyeballed a capped bottle of Bruery Turreux’s Turo. It bore a simple white label, plainly explaining the liquid was a sour blonde seasoned with whole-cluster Grenache grapes (a widely planted red-wine varietal) and aged in French oak.
Ho-hum, my brain hummed. Another beer-wine mash-up. Brewers have lately gone ape for grapes, using the fruit to create category-straddlers like Dogfish Head Sixty-One, an IPA doctored with Syrah grape must, and Allagash’s Victoria thrums with Chardonnay grapes and both Belgian abbey and wine yeasts. Beer agog with grapes is almost as common as coffee-infused imperial stouts.
It resists classification like today’s funky natural wines, which are ’70s punk in a world of classical music.”
I took my trusty opener to Turo, the flying cap crash-landing on the table. No gushing. Good sign.
I poured the beer into a wine glass, the liquid a garnet hue that’d make a sommelier swoon. The aesthetic was impeccable, save for one massive detail: the beer was as still as a human statue, not a bubble in sight. “This is one of the most blurring-the-lines beers that has ever been made,” says Terreux production manager Jeremy Grinkey. He later adds, “I don’t know of another beer that was made this way.”
Grinkey is no stranger to grapes. He spent seven years working in the wine industry on California’s Central Coast before answering brewing’s call. His old gig informed his new one in beers, such as Rue Sans, designed to mimic an orange wine. “We’ve done wine and beer hybrids for a while, and I believe we’re very good at them,” Grinkey says. “The goal was to take the wine and beer hybrid to an exceptional level.”
Enter Turo. Its base is Terreux’s sour blonde wort, the same starting point for Rueuze, a spin on blended aged lambics. Aged hops give the wort a light bitterness that won’t clash with, say, whole-cluster grapes – stems, seeds and skins included. Grinkey lobbed the fruit into wort-filled puncheons, where the grapes’ natural microflora mingled with the house culture and fostered a secondary fermentation. Months later, Grinkey removed the grapes and pressed them. He added the juice back to the beer-grape blend and finished fermentation in French oak.
The best method to monitor a barrel-aged ferment’s flavor evolution is sampling straight from the cask—still, lacking any frisky carbonation. As he took fellow brewers through his cellar, “I’d taste them on this beer-wine hybrid and they were blown away,” he recalls. If Turo was so tasty as is, why did he need to fizz it up? After all, he says, carbonation can make a beer worse. “If there’s volatility, it can make it jump out of the glass at you,” Grinkey says. “You’re saying, ‘This is what it is.’ You’re not hiding anything.”
A handful of other brewers, including Side Project, Cantillon and Ale Apothecary, dabble with bottling beers still, but the practice is essentially nonexistent. Doing so is a dice roll, a calculated gamble with purposefully low stakes. Bruery Terreux only bottled some 1,100 bottles of Turo, earmarked for members of its Hoarders Society club. “There will be some beer and wine people who will absolutely hate it,” Grinkey says. “It goes against everything that we do.”
Take a blindfolded taste of Turo at room temperature, and you’ll be hard-pressed to define it as beer or wine. It resists classification like today’s funky natural wines, which are ’70s punk in a world of classical music. Turo turns back the clock to rustic times when fermentations were not either / or, but rather a blend of a, b and whatever you see.
Grinkey would relish the prospect to tinker with more grain-grape amalgams, but consumer response is king. “The question is, Will wine drinkers appreciate the beer? Will beer drinkers appreciate the wine?” he says. “I think we’ll figure out very quickly if this is something that we should try again.”