Grapes are the inspiration behind a trendy beer style that is bringing the worlds of wine and beer together: new hybrids that are seducing hopheads and oenophiles alike. Beer-wine hybrids – or vinales, as I like to call them – are beers made with one or more wine ingredient. They range from subtle and beer-forward versions, such as a porter aged in a cabernet franc barrel, to more grape-centric fusions, such as Dogfish Head’s snappy saison, made plump and fruity with juices from viognier and pinot gris grapes. In 1999, Dogfish began experimenting with hybrids and now the Delaware brewery is at the forefront of a vinale movement, which is flourishing south of the border and in Belgium and Italy.
Not sure than any actual oenophiles are moved in the slightest by these sometimes quite evil potions but that is not my point. Note the sidebar "...or vinales, as I like to call them..." See, I like how she gave herself the authority to coin a word in that way. Now, like Mr. B, I think the substantive concept (as opposed to the welcome procedural autonomy) is founded on sandy shoals in that it is proposed in relation to style based classification. Given the whopping failure that styles as a concept are more and more obviously becoming, it's not a good way to go.
But... the desire to more accurately describe things in some taxonomy related to good beer is not only a rare one but one that needs fostering. Jay has recently been going back in craft beer time to, in good beer years, 37 million BC if hop heads are to be believed. That translates to the late '80s when malty goodness was king and Pete's Wicked Ales published a chart suggesting a description of beer based on a four quadrant X-Y axis sort of diagram. I like the concept because it is actually understandable, something the 1283 identified "styles" of beer¹ can no longer claim to be. It is also rational, again not something that characterizes the smelly old dog of style-based belief systems, in that it recognizes the overlap or at least flow from one expression of beer to another. Crystal's proposed "vinale" is like that. It recognizes something occurring and seeks to explain it simply.
Keep one thing in mind: I don't recommend you drink most of the stuff. Just as swirling a lemon lolly pop in an IPA is no way to either add welcome new flavours - nor certainly to invent a style - pouring beer on grape musts or letting it hang out in a cask that has held, say, chardonnay is a way to capture new flavours... but not one that is likely to, you know, taste good due mainly to the over reliance on the wine component. But that is not to say it is theoretically possible one day for someone to find some value in the overlap, the mixing. And remember ciders and meads have a long track record of names for mixes and concoctions like "braggott" and "metheglin". Collectively the words are not stylistic in any sense of Platonic orders of understanding. They are, rather, more functional, addressing the prime components found in the beverage. And they are largely in Welsh... which is cool.
So is "vinale" a keeper? Maybe. But more importantly it offers a way ahead even if along a road less taken. It offers a peek at an alternative classification system that might develop based on function just as the Pete's charts describe a theory of beery relativity. More of such thinking, please.
¹We also need to be mindful that there appears to be a new style created at the birth of each new US craft brewery, a phenomenon that needs its own pithy label tying concepts of inflation, bubble economics, PR and a dim but persistent association with some vague authority.