— Perched in the beer aisle, with their foil-wrapped necks and labels sporting tranquil nature scenes, Golden Knot and Crimson Crossing look like refugees from the wine shelf, misplaced by a supermarket clerk.
They're sold not by the six-pack, but in single 25.4-ounce bottles. And they don't taste like traditional beers: spritzy, light on the palate in spite of their nine percent alcohol, with tart, fruity flavors hinting of apples, pears, plums and blackberries.
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, Md., has announced the forthcoming release of Vineyard Blonde, brewed with vidal blanc grape juice from Breaux Vineyards in Purcellville, Va.
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' 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.