Brewery Co-owner, and brewmaster, Nick Kocis.
The beer and wine worlds collide in the latest brew from Madison’s Dead Bird Brewing. Wine Thief is a complex, sweet, white wine-like beer that may convince staunch wine lovers and hard-core craft beer enthusiasts that collaboration can lead to good things.
What is it? Wine Thief from Dead Bird Brewing of Madison.
Style: The base beer of Wine Thief is a big-bodied and hoppy Belgian witbier beer. The witbier is normally a light-bodied wheat beer that ranges from 4.8 percent to 5.6 percent ABV. Wine Thief is a bigger version of a witbier, made with a strain of Belgian yeast, much more malt and a lot more hops. As its name suggests, there’s also an addition of white wine must to this beer, which adds body, strength and distinctive sweetness.
Background: The wine-like qualities of Wine Thief are attributed to Sauvignon Blanc grape must from California. That form of grape juice gets added to the brew kettle in the later stages of making wort. Dead Bird co-owner and brewer Nick Kocis says he intended to use Wisconsin grapes in making this beer; however, a devastating frost last May dramatically reduced the grape availability beyond what the local wineries use themselves to make their own wine. The grape must that Kocis was able to get becomes about 30 percent of the overall liquid. “We’re going for something a little more wine-like and showcasing grape must with a bit of citrus,” says Kocis. “We ended up with a fruity, tropical blend.”
Dead Bird Brewing is a new local beer maker, having been turning out beer for a little over a year. The idea for Wine Thief came from Kocis’ homebrewing days, from playing around with blending fruit juices and beer. His earlier versions have included apple cider and even pear juice. Wine Thief is hopped with Citra and Hallertau Blanc hops. The Citra add their own tropical notes of grapefruit and orange, while the Hallertau Blanc reinforces the white wine flavor.
To get the amount of fresh grape must that goes into this beer, Kocis teamed up with the Prairie Home Vintners of Sun Prairie in a recent order to get the grape must. Dead Bird was also helped out by the Great Dane Brewery with a supply of Hallertau Blanc hops.
Wine Thief finishes around 9 percent ABV. It’s available in 22-ounce bomber bottles sealed with light yellow-green wax, for $10/each.
Aroma: A fruity white wine grape aroma with a hint of sweet onion.
Appearance: A hazy, deep orange-golden color. A thin, soft, off-white head.
Texture: Full-bodied, round, with softness.
Taste: Lots of white wine up front with a combination of gooseberry, grapefruit and green apple. The Citra hops really pop out and support all that assertive fruity sweetness. There’s also a light earthy spiciness from the Belgian yeast in the background.
Finish/Aftertaste: The fresh grape and white wine sweetness linger. The Citra hops add a tropical orange flavor. And there’s lingering warmth and dryness.
Glassware: A small chalice or wine glass will encourage slow sipping and will focus the citrus and grape aroma under the nose.
Pairs well with: With its white wine fruitiness, this is a nice beer for a range of soft and briny cheeses. The salty and tanginess of a fresh feta or brie, or the creamy buttermilk flavor of mozzarella are examples of cheese that will complement the sweetness of the Sauvignon Blanc grape must.
The Verdict: Those who look for different and unusual brews will want to pick up a bottle of Wine Thief. It’s very sweet, with so much wine character the beer almost gets lost. However, you’ll still find a backbone of earthy Belgian yeast, graininess from barley and wheat, and the sharp tropical fruitiness of Citra hops. There’s also lots of supporting Hallertau Blanc hops that add more white grape flavor. It all works as an elaborate equation for a distinctive brew. In the end, it’s most memorable for the notes of grape, green apple and a touch of gooseberry fruitiness that emerge and never go away. They linger long into a finish that becomes warm and dry. I recommend it as a pre-meal beer.