Right Royal Collaboration
Has there ever been a better time to be a beer drinker? Not only is the choice so fantastic, the quality is better than ever and the imagination of brewers seems to know no bounds, especially when they get together and dabble in collaboration brews.
Such a beer is Royal Rye Wine, a product of the fertile imaginations of three breweries – Mikkeler and Jacobsen from Denmark and Baltika in Russia – conceived as a celebratory drink for the visit of Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II to St Petersburg last September.
Mikkeler owner Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Wolfgang David Lindell, innovation manager at Carlsberg’s Jacobsen brewery in Denmark, flew into Russia three months earlier and teamed up with Baltika’s brew team in the small pilot brewhouse concealed deep within the St Petersburg brewery’s sprawling centre.
With the Queen (pictured right) not noted as a beer fan, the aim was to create a drink that had both beer and wine characteristics. To this end, the brewing brains decided to hop the beer with the Nelson Sauvin variety from New Zealand, which, it has been remarked, offers a similar flavour to the Sauvignon Blanc grape.
To accentuate the wine flavours, the lads also then added grape leaves to the mash and grape juice to the boil.
The robust yeast strain used was cultured in Baltika’s laboratories about five years ago and the fermented beer was matured for just over three weeks in oak casks that had previously been filled with hop extract (a kind of ‘pre-dry-hopping’ that liberates both tannins and hop oils from the wood).
The result is one of the most unusual beers I’ve ever tasted. A hazy ruby-amber colour, it features tart berry and grape notes, alongside oak, in the aroma.
The taste is smooth, creamy and warming -– we are heading up towards wine strength here, at 9.5% – and just on the sweet side.
Berry and grape again show through, along with an oaky dryness, a touch of caramel from the rye malt -– chosen because of the popularity of the grain in Baltic countries such as Denmark and Russia – and vague nods towards liquorice.
The restrained carbonation – enough to make it interesting but not sparkling by any means – certainly helps the wine analogy and renders the beer soft on the palate.
Malty sweetness lingers awhile in the finish before dryness and bitterness take control, but you’re also treated to a pleasant glow of warmth that tingles the throat and stomach.
Getting hold of a bottle of Royal Rye Wine is likely to be pretty difficult, I concede. It’s only a limited-edition brew. But, if you do happen to come across a bottle, make sure you pour yourself a splash and see just what some of the world’s most innovative brewers get up to when they put their heads together.