hist-brewing: Beer or Wine?

Shroom shroom at theriver.com
Tue Jun 6 14:52:42 PDT 2000

Beth Ann Snead wrote:

> In mead this may work wonders but mead and wine are
> two entirely different animals.  Most often when sugar
> and/or water is added to a fruit must it is part of
> the process of  adjusting an acid content that is
> either too high, ot too low.  The only fruit with a
> perfect acid level for winemaking is the grape.  Every
> other fruit needs to be adjusted to get the best
> results.
> > If you want something more sweet don't be afraid to
> > use an Ale yeast on your
> > wines.
> But then, by definition you don't end up with wine.
> You end up with a beverage whose alcohol content is
> entirely too low to be called wine since the ale yeast
> will die much too early.  Often you end up with a
> beverage whose alcohol content is too low to even
> survive the aging process that many fruit wines need
> to be well done.

I've been reading the discussion of whether a fermented honey/fruit beverage is
beer or wine, and the comments above make me think we've got the species before
the genus, so to speak.  Just like other specialized words to describe a
particular fermented fruit (cider, perry, etc) the word "wine" describes
fermented grapes, which makes it, like the others, a type of "mead" (non-grain
based fermented beverages).  The two categories, then, are Beer and Mead, not
Beer and Wine.

Of course, there is the historically-based perspective, in which one can argue
whether grapes were first artificially fermented (using botrytis fungus
naturally found on grapes, and yielding what is today "late harvest" type wines)
or whether a "sweet water" (water with honey) was fermented using yeasts on
plants/herbs or on the honeycomb itself.  I tend to think the process was
parallel, separated by geography (grapes tending to be limited to relatively
small temperate mini-climates) which doesn't help to resolve the issue in my

I'm not sure that alcohol content determines the category, either, since beers
can reach 18% (Sam Adams Triple Bock) and some wine is 10.5% (Beringer 'Late
Harvest', I believe, is less than 10.5%).  As far as that goes, carbonation
isn't a determining factor either, nor is the ability to age (though, as far as
that goes, high sugar and high alcohol do make for better long-term stability).
I believe that it's only the vast amount of research and experimentation that
have gone into grape wines that make them survive longer in bottle than any
other beverage - a 100 year old Chateau Margaux or Pauillac red are just as
drinkable as a 5 year old.  I don't think I can say the same for any of my
meads, though the oldest one I have remaining at this point is only 3 years old.
I can imagine, however, a cyser or melomel aging for decades and becoming smooth
and "fruitless" - the complex flavor molecules slowly breaking down into simpler
ones with an underpinning of honey sugars.  All it takes is a sterile process
and a good cork, two things which us homebrewers seldom get perfect.

Fred Bourdelier
(lurker in Tucson AZ)

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