In fact, the brands are beer-wine hybrids, fermented from wheat and kosher varietal grape juice: chardonnay in the case of Golden Knot, merlot for the Crimson Crossing.
Coming from a small regional brewery, such beers wouldn’t raise eyebrows. Craft brewers are supposed to think outside the box. Dogfish Head in Milton, Del., has incorporated grapes in several of its beers, and Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick has announced the forthcoming release of Vineyard Blonde, brewed with vidal blanc grape juice from Breaux Vineyards in Purcellville.
But Golden Knot and Crimson Crossing are part of the new Vintage Ale Collection from Blue Moon Brewing. That’s a specialty division of MillerCoors, the nation’s second-largest brewing company. These beers are brewed in 1,000-barrel kettles at Coors’s mother ship brewery in Golden, Colo., according to Keith Villa, founder and head brew master of Blue Moon. One batch is enough to supply the entire nation.
“I actually created these beers back in 1995,” says Villa, who was given free rein to fashion new recipes at SandLot, a 10-barrel brewpub at Coors Field, the Colorado Rockies’ ballpark. “But back then, beer and wine existed in separate worlds.”
America’s beer palate has become a lot more eclectic. “We’ve served these beers at festivals in wine country on the West Coast and found wine lovers are turned on by our Vintage Collection,” says Villa, who purposely omitted barley from the recipes to let the grapes shine forth.
As growth of the U.S. craft segment continues at a double-digit clip, MillerCoors wants a piece of the action. Besides the Vintage beers, Blue Moon premiered two other lines this fall. The Expressionist Collection consists of Belgian styles with a twist. Short Straw Farmhouse Red Ale, for instance, combines the spiciness of a saison with the sour fruit of a Belgian-style red ale in the Rodenbach mold.
The Graffiti Collection is a catch-all category that encompasses such free-style brands as Pine in the Neck, an IPA flavored with juniper berries, and Tongue Thai-ed, an ale spiced with lemon grass and basil.
Of course, MillerCoors continues to churn out oceanic quantities of Blue Moon Belgian White, which Villa touts as the best-selling craft brand in the nation. If you consider it “craft.” And therein hangs a controversy.
The Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, which represents most of the 2,500-plus breweries operating in the United States, defines a craft brewery as “small, traditional, and independent.” The association has employed the word “crafty” to describe corporate aliases such as Blue Moon Brewing and Anheuser-Busch’s Shock Top Brewing, which (the group contends) can make consumers think those beers come from small, locally owned bricks-and-mortar breweries.