Tasting: 3 Wine/Beer Hybrids (Loam Series) From Side Project Brewing

Drink Features craft beer
Tasting: 3 Wine/Beer Hybrids (Loam Series) From Side Project Brewing

The nexus between beer and wine is a nebulous thing that can be difficult to define. Particularly in the era since the early 2010s, when the American wild ale scene really began to take off in earnest, brewers have found ways to combine viticulture and the brewing arts. For many places, this means wild ale programs that occasionally incorporate grape juice, or skins, or crushed grape must into primary or secondary fermentations. The question is, does that technically make a beer-wine hybrid? Or does a true hybrid need to involve the fusion of both fermented beer and fermented wine? Side Project Brewing’s Loam series explores more in the direction of the latter, trailblazing new techniques in the process.

This kind of experimentation is of course nothing new for Side Project and brewmaster Cory King, one of the country’s most lauded producers of wild ales and barrel-aged stouts in particular. What is new is the Loam series’ commitment to truly revolving around every aspect of wine and grape production, including its use of grapes specifically from Missouri’s own Augusta AVA, the nation’s very first federally approved American Viticultural area. This is done in partnership with Noboleis Vineyards, with the name referring to the particular type of soil–sandy and clay loam–found in the area. The mineral composition of this soil is particularly suited for wine grape production, resulting in one of the country’s most verdant wine regions.

There are, of course, some complications to embarking on a relatively undefined project, when it comes to beverage alcohol. Notably, various states in the U.S. have differing laws involving the production of wine and beer, which true hybrids can obfuscate. In Missouri, King operates with both brewing and winemaking permits in order to be able to craft genre-busting potables. The result is the current incarnation of the Loam series first begun in 2022, which now includes beer-wine hybrids symbolically inspired by white wine, rosé wine and even orange wine.

I recently tasted all three of these current Loam expressions, so let’s dive into the exploration of each one.

Side Project Loam Vidal Blanc 2023

ABV: 6%

Attempting to understand precisely what this beer is from its description is slightly confusing, but that’s the nature of being on the avant-garde. At first, it appears to be a classical Belgian saison that then develops on Missouri wild yeast, with grapes added for a secondary fermentation. The description goes on to clarify, however, that “we racked the white wine from the skins and used it in Loam Vidal Blanc.” So in fact, this is a wild-inflected saison aged on Missouri oak, that is then blended with fermented Vidal Blanc wine, and then allows to marry, re-ferment and age. The resulting hybrid is then bottle conditioned, “to produce a natural carbonation and lively, champagne-like qualities.”

Indeed, one of the first things I note when sampling this is the very fine, delicate bubbles of it, which actually do evoke the carbonation style of sparkling wine. It has a snappy acidity on the palate, although at the same time it’s not quite what you might think of as “sour” or tart beer. Perhaps this is because the overall profile is quite dry. Loam Vidal Blanc features delicate melon flavors, along with stone fruit and fresh white grape. Its surprisingly easy to drink, feeling at times like the acidity should make it harder to drink this easily, but it somehow avoids all the pitfalls inherent to this. Flavor wise, what I keep coming back to in this expression is the melon: It evokes something like slightly salted melon balls, with a spritz of lemon juice. Quite refreshing.

Side Project Loam Vidal Blanc Orange Wine Process 2023

ABV: 5.9%

The Orange Wine Process version of Side Project Loam is perhaps the most fascinating of these from a technical standpoint. As the company puts it: “When we received our Vidal Blanc grapes and must from Noboleis, we racked the white wine from the skins and used it in Loam Vidal Blanc. The remaining Vidal Blanc skins, lees and must were then covered with Side Project Saison to pull the tannins, textures, mouthfeel and some colors from the skins–just like the process to make many rosé wines, but instead with white grapes. The result is a beautiful beer with notes and complexities we have never created before.”

On the nose, this one really jumps from the glass, with very big and vivacious apricot and stone fruit aromatics, almost verging on the bright tartness of passion fruit. This comes across as tart but especially as juicy in a way that the modern craft beer drinker will likely appreciate given the way we so often pursue many of those same flavors via American hop varietals. On the palate, it features clean acidity and moderate fruity intensity that gives it a very bright and sunny impression, though this is chased by modest funky characteristics, with some leathery impressions hinting at its cocktail of wild yeast. The apricot-type note is really beautiful, all the more so for the fact that this beer doesn’t actually include any stone fruit. Like the other Vidal Blanc, this stands out appreciably as well for the fact that it both reads as vivaciously tart, but remains relatively easy to drink. The sheer cheerfulness of this expression ultimately ended up making it my favorite of the three.

Side Project Loam Chambourcin Rosé 2023

ABV: 6.9%

If there’s an orange wine entry in the series, then obviously there’s going to be a rosé as well. The Chambourcin Rosé here seems to also incorporate “short fermented” Chambourcin wine, in addition to saison aged on the skins. As the company puts it: “When the grape was picked, crushed and then transported to our brewery, we allowed it to undergo a short fermentation before pulling the red wine off of the grapes and blending it with saison. The tank containing the remaining Chambourcin grape skins, lees and must was refilled with mature Side Project Missouri Saison to allow it to gently extract the delicate life left behind in the Chambourcin skins.”

This one pours quite a deep shade, arguably bypassing rosé and looking more like a red wine fusion. The nose is tart and tangy, with subtle red fruitiness, although this is a clear case of where it is difficult to disconnect one’s eyes from your nose–I find myself wondering what my initial reaction would be here if I was blindfolded, and whether the darker impressions would be obvious in that scenario. On the palate, the darker fruit does continue to develop, with bright raspberry and tart cranberry notes. Unlike the other two Loam entries, though, this one does seem to take on a more puckeringly tart dimension in my opinion, being sharper and more genuinely tangy in its acidity, which could make it difficult to consume in larger quantities. All told, I think I prefer the more delicate approach of the two Vidal Blanc expressions, though craft beer geeks who love the more familiar, “fruited sour” dimension will find a lot to like in the Chambourcin Rosé’s higher volume of flavor.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin