Mixed Feelings

Before beer was beer, it was blended. The first fermented drinks were mixes of fruit, honey, and grains. Sugar was scarce; anything sweet went into the pot. Even when brewers figured out how to malt and mash barley effectively enough to make wort, fermentation remained a mystery, and sluggish batches were jump-started with fresh wine or mead. The Hymn to Ninkasi mentions “brewing a wort with honey and wine.” In the Kalevala, Osmotar’s beer—a dud—is saved by a bee.

Today the lines are blurring again, even as the TTB struggles to keep up with style names like wheatwine. We had an excellent braggot from Atlantic Brewing Company at their roadside barbecue shack on MDI—sweet, but in a rich, barrel-aged sort of way. Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot is a mix of beer and wine; soon they’ll release a blend of beer and cider. Avery makes some grape-grain hybrids too, though barrel herder Andy Parker doesn’t like the term. The Sumerians called it kaš-geštin, a combination of their pictograms for beer and wine. I don’t know how to pronounce it either.

Beer cocktails are trending and beer-beer blends are catching on. But Pils in your Pinot? Samuel Pepys, who’d try anything, was unconvinced.

…and to Mr. Hollyard, and took some pills of him and a note under his hand to drink wine with my beere…

[later]

They gone, I to my office, and there my head being a little troubled with the little wine I drank, though mixed with beer, but it may be a little more than I used to do, and yet I cannot say so…