When applied to beer, the term "Grand Cru" creates certain expectations. These brews are often Belgian-inspired, with rich, unique yeasty qualities and flavors ranging from sweet to sour tart, sometimes dry spicy and warm. The term isn't as much a defined style as it is a marketing moniker, and to be blunt, many Grand Crus are really not all that grand. Hinterland has been working on a version of a Trappist-style ale for a couple of years in its Green Bay brewpub, and is now releasing it for the first time in bottles. It's a superior beer that truly lives up to the "Grand Cru" label.
What is it? Grand Cru from Hinterland (Green Bay Brewing Company) of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Style: Grand Cru is commonly used in winemaking as a way to note the high quality of a given vineyard and its terroir. The term has been regulated by the French since the 19th century in the identification of certain wines, and the consumer associates it with high expectations. With beer, it's most often applied to Belgian brews of special vintages. They are usually flavorful, strong and limited in availability. Like wine, when you see "Grand Cru" on the lablel you should think this is the brewery's very finest offering.
Background: Hinterland Grand Cru was first offered in 2012 on draught only, and the brewery followed up with another small batch in 2013. But this spring, the beer was bottled for the first time.
"It was so well received that we decided to do a large batch and release it in the bottles this year," says Hinterland's head brewer Joe Karls. The recipe was developed by Hinterland assistant brewer Scott Kissman, who, before coming to Green Bay, had worked for the now-closed Michigan Beer Company of Webberville, which is located near East Lansing.
In 2002, Michigan Beer Company acquired the Celis brands formerly created by Pierre Celis in Austin, Texas, which included Celis Grand Cru. The beer was a favorite of Kissman's while working for Michigan Beer, so when the opportunity to make one arose at Hinterland, he jumped at the chance.
"I love the fact that this is a beer Scott always wanted to do," says Karls. "He had been bringing it up as a beer to make, and as soon as we had time and a tank available, we knew we had to do this."
Hinterland Grand Cru has a firm, malt-forward flavor. It is made mostly with two-row brewers malt, along with biscuit and aromatic malts. Beet sugar is also added, which bumps up the alcoholic strength and lends a touch of sweetness. The recipe also features ground coriander and dried orange-peel. The beer is fermented with both Trappist and English yeasts, which give it distinctive sweet and earthy-spicy qualities.
The beer was originally brewed back in February and was bottle-conditioned for a short time before leaving the brewery. Karls says he expects it to get better with age. "It's a great beer to lay down for a year to a year and a half," he explains, as the aging allows the sweetness and warmth to mellow.
Hinterland Grand Cru finishes at 9.6% ABV. It's sold in 16-ounce bottles for around $7, and is expected to remain available into early summer. It was also offered on draught at Brickhouse BBQ during a Madison Craft Beer Week tap takeover on May 3.
Also just appearing on local shelves is the non-barrel-aged version of Hinterland White Out, an imperial IPA. This beer turns up only periodically, is full-bodied and bold at 9.8% ABV, and features Cascade and Columbus hops. An even more limited version of White Out that is barrel aged for over 20 months is expected to be released in the fall. Both versions of White Out were also served during the Hinterland party during Madison Craft Beer Week.
- Aroma: Sweet, malty and yeasty tones.
- Appearance: Amber copper, almost bronze. A marbled, tan head.
- Texture: Full bodied; round and soft mouthfeel.
- Taste: Lots of sweetness. Smooth malty hints of caramel with sweet grape and plum undertones.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The sweetness continues, with nice spicy notes in the end.
Glassware: The chalice or goblet shows off the amber-bronze body of Hinterland Grand Cru. Drink this beer cool, but not refrigerator-cold.
Pairs well with: This is a great beer for a hearty meal, and its sweetness is well-suited to rich meats and sauces. It's ideal with prime rib and rich stews.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: I really enjoy the full body and sweetness of Hinterland Grand Cru. Given the price, it's a nice beer to share with a friend over a meal, or even as a night cap. There is a lot of flavor and malty-sweetness, yet overall it's a balanced beer. Its dark-fruitiness in the background, with hints of grape, blends with the coriander and orange. It's a very nice beer now, but cellaring will allow it to mellow and become even smoother.
If you like full-bodied Belgian Trappist-style brews, Hinterland Grand Cru is one to pick up. Get two bottles -- one to enjoy now and another for aging.