Why Does Some Beer Taste Like Wine?

Beer and wine actually have quite a lot in common. Both are results of fermentation, for example, in which yeast transforms sugars into alcohol. It's true that what's fermented is quite different. In the case of wine, it's crushed grapes, notes Wine Bags. Beer, by contrast, is made from fermented grains like barley, which have to undergo a malting process in order to create the sugars necessary for fermentation.

Some brewers and winemakers have taken the fundamental similarities as an invitation to push the boundaries, bringing beer and wine even closer together. Punch reported on the New Zealand winemaker who made Sauvignon Blanc with hops, and served it out of a beer keg; and as Wine Enthusiast observes, there have been several instances of brewers using wine grapes to make beer, including a Belgian brewer, Cantillon, who has been doing it for decades.

Highlighting this overlap is a beer that sounds as if it might be a wine. Yes, we're referring to barleywine, a beer style that got its name mostly due to its high alcohol content. Barleywines can reach 12% alcohol by volume, according to the Beer Judge Certification Program, placing them closer in strength to wine than to most commercially brewed beers. The most interesting, and at times disturbing similarities between beer and wine, however, are the ones involving flavor.

The reasons for wine flavors in beer

What does it mean if your beer tastes like wine? This could be because of off-flavors, which result from issues during the fermentation process. A good example, via MoreBeer, is the cidery, often wine-like flavors found in some beers, which can occur when excessive sugar (either of the cane or corn variety) is added to help boost the alcohol level.

Beer can also taste a bit wine-like, according to Wine Enthusiast, due to fruity, citrusy, or even sour flavors. These tart or fruity tasting notes generally reflect choices made by the brewer. Fruit is a common brewing additive in Belgian beers, for instance. Witbiers are often spiced with ingredients like orange peel and coriander seeds, according to Hop Culture, while Belgian lambic beer, a style notable for its wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentations, also frequently incorporates fruits such as raspberries, cherries, and yes, grapes, per Oregon Wine Press.

Of course, the opposite – wine that tastes kind of like beer – is also possible. We mentioned the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc made with hops. The reason such a wine-beer hybrid can work, Wine Enthusiast explains, is that certain types of hops have flavor profiles that match up quite nicely with the flavor profiles of certain wine varietals. Like, for instance, the pairing of Sauvignon Blanc grapes with Nelson Sauvin hops.