WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
Collaboration brews — when 2 or more breweries work together to brew a single beer — have become more and more common over the past decade. What is less common is when a winery and a brewery come together to create a beer; but that is exactly what happened recently when Chicago-based Goose Island Beer Co. approached Montgomery County’s acclaimed Karamoor Estate with the idea to barrel age a beer in Karamoor’s wine casks. The result: a farmhouse style beer named “Chrysos” which is being exclusively served now for a limited time in the Vetri restaurants in Philadelphia (Osteria, Amis, Alla Spina, Lo Spiedo and Pizzeria Vetri).
During an early release event at Osteria in December, both the brewer from Goose Island, Austin Niestrom, and Karamoor winemaker Kevin Robinson, were on hand to introduce the beer and talk about how the collaboration happened. Niestrom explained that the base beer for “Chrysos” was their “Sofie;” a belgian farmhouse ale that is partially aged in oak casks with the wild yeast Brettanomyces. After aging, that beer is blended back into a younger, non-barrel aged version of the beer for bottling. According to Niestrom, “’Chrysos’ has the same malt bill as ‘Sofie’ — so it is still a farmhouse ale — but it is 100 percent barrel aged. The beer was inoculated with Brett and was aged in the Karamoor casks for 3½ months.”
Niestrom noted, “‘Chrysos’ is darker in color than ‘Sofie’ but that is because we used the casks differently than the ‘Sofie’ program. ‘Sofie’ casks are oak neutral — they are steamed and rinsed each time after the beer ages in them, and the casks are reused time and again. The Karamoor casks were not rinsed – there was wine left in the staves — what they would call the ‘Devil’s cut’ in the spirit industry. So the beer was able to go in and out of the staves and penetrate those pores and interact with the residual wine in the cask. I think that adds a little bit to the pigment of the beer and a more mineral forward flavor on my pallet.”
Kevin Robinson has been a winemaker at Karamoor for a little over 5 years; prior to that he worked in the wine industry in California. Karamoor has earned a reputation for its truly local wines; based on 27 acres in Fort Washington, “we are all estate grown, all estate bottled; we do not bring any fruit in — and that is the hallmark of our wines” said Robinson. He explained at the “Chrysos” release that Karamoor pumped out their wine and gave Goose Island 2 60-gallon oak casks that had held their 2013 vintage “Cabernet Franc” and “Petit Verdot.” Both casks were made with French and Hungarian oak, which, Robinson noted, “We think the Hungarian oak gives the wine a cinnamon, nutmeg quality; and the French oak gives it the vanilla flavor.”
Robinson acknowledged that even though Brett was used in the “Chrysos,” the wild yeast is not viewed kindly by winemakers; “Brettanomyces — I’m glad it’s found it’s home in beer. It is the one thing that we fight diligently against in wine; I can appreciate it in the beer, but you won’t find it in our wine!”
Arli Duloc of Karamoor later explained that Karamoor agreed to the project “because collaborations (as long as there are good partners) are the most fun type of cross promotional marketing one can do. Goose Island has a reputation of being an excellent brewery and it is great when awesome craft beverage producers have an opportunity to work together…creating something new and unique that the public will (we hope) enjoy. When Goose Island approached us, it was a no brainer.”
Dulac also said that “Our friends that have tried ‘Chrysos’ have been fans. It was very well made, and it is nice how you can pick up a hint of flavors that are typical to our Cabernet Franc (flavors like black cherry, dried herbs, wet earth, bay laurel, etc.). It pairs very well with food.”
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to find “Chrysos” at your local pub — Goose Island only made about 4 beer barrels of it and it will surely go fast. But if you miss it in January, keep your eyes open — the Vetri restaurants are planning to hold on to a few kegs for special events later in the year.
If you don’t get the chance to try “Chrysos,” you can still try the Karamoor wines that were part of the beer. In addition, Dulac says, “We are hopeful to have a tasting room open by mid-summer of 2017. The tasting room will not be on the property, but it will be close by. Those that are interested in visiting us now, are able to on a limited basis. We recently finished construction of a private tasting room that is attached to the winery and we have been offering tours with limited tickets being sold. The tours can be found on our website at: http://www.karamoorwines.com/Wines/Tours.”
Columnist Matt Brasch is a beer enthusiast and a lifelong Montgomery County resident. For more, go to http://thebrewholder.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at “The Brewholder.”