Wabasha Brewing Company’s Grand Cru Bottle Release

Today, November 21st, Wabasha Brewing Company is releasing a red wine barrel-aged Grand Cru. This beer is not just a special release, but something that everyone in the brewhouse at Wabasha is incredibly proud of. I got a chance to try it at the Happy Gnome Beer Dinner featuring Wabasha in October. It piqued my interest then and I knew I wanted to know more about it.

Putting Beer in a Red Wine Barrel Won’t Work? Hold My Beer. . .

Wabasha Brewing Company has a mantra that the best ideas happen eight beers in. They are a brewery that is still small enough where they have the flexibility to be really creative. If any member of the brain trust has an idea, they have the ability to give it a try.

The origin story of the Grand Cru is a fun tale of what happens when you don’t take no for an answer. Chris Kolve, one of the founders of Wabasha was at an unnamed California winery and inquired about the prospect of procuring a red wine barrel. Chris was told, in no uncertain terms, that you cannot put beer in a red wine barrel-it just won’t work. Well, the crew at Wabasha is not going to be told what to do. If you have met Wabasha’s Head Brewer, Brett, you know that once he starts in on an idea, he finds a way to make it work.

Despite this Napa naysayer’s wine flute half-empty outlook, Wabasha kept looking for a red wine barrel. They eventually settled on some barrels from Alexis Bailly Winery out of Hastings, MN. Brett was there on a tour led by the owners of the winery. Brett and his significant other had a great time and a working relationship with Alexis Bailly was formed. Not only did Alexis Bailly agree that putting beer in a red wine barrel was a good idea, they delivered the barrels to the brewery free of charge. Talk about wonderful people!

As Brett, Chris, and Shawn are recounting the tale, it is like those vignette’s from When Harry Met Sally where the couples are recounting how they met and they keep interrupting each other. As Brett puts it, the Alexis Bailly representative delivered the barrels on a night when they all just happened to be hanging out in the taproom. What is noteworthy about this statement is that Brett makes it sound like this is a rare thing. I can tell hanging out with these guys that shooting the breeze after a hard day’s work in the taproom happens on most days that end in a Y.

A Special Beer

Part of the reason why the Wabasha Brewing Company Grand Cru turned out so well is that they agreed beforehand that it would be bottled when it was ready. They did not set a deadline for the beer to be done, they just waited patiently and tasted it along the way until they agreed it was time. This wound up being roughly ten months. Whether you go down to the taproom and buy a few bottles or get it on tap at Wabasha or a the Chatterbox Pub in Minneapolis, you need to let the Grand Cru warm up. Why, you ask? Well, the Grand Cru is a complex beer and to really get the full monty of flavors, you gotta let it get to about 50 degrees.

If you can be patient, your reward is a beer that has flavors of toffee, plums, cherries, figs, and raisin. The esters of dark fruit transition seamlessly into a satisfying leathery malt note. The body of the beer is full and supports all the big flavors. You get a lot of the tannic red wine character along with the wine barrel essence. This beer will pair well with a perfectly prepared steak, some aged cheddar, and great conversation with close friends.

This beer is special. Not just because a California winery told them it wouldn’t work, but because it took a lot of time and love. I think that amidst everything in Wabasha Brewing’s portfolio that I have tried, this one shows the most artistry and technique. I hope you get a chance to try it because it is definitely a fantastic beer. Prost!

Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer.  Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged.  If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .