Dogfish Head Noble Rot is a beer made with the addition of grapes. That in itself isn’t totally new. What is new is that the grapes contribute about half of the fermentable sugars.
What’s also worth noting is the types of grapes used: Viognier and Pinot Gris grapes from Alexandria Nicole Cellars.
The Viognier has been infected with botrytis (or “noble rot”) which dries up the grapes, concentrating the sugars in the fruit. The Pinot Gris grapes have had their sweetness intensified by a technique called “dropping fruit,” which involves cutting off clusters of grapes and letting them drop to the ground. The idea is that the vine can suck up only so many nutrients to nourish the grapes and by thinning the fruit, the vintner increases the sweetness of what remains.
Given that beer and wine are taxed and regulated differently, did Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione get any flack from alcohol regulatory authorities? “The only challenge was that the TTB [Tax and Trade Bureau] wanted a better description of at what point we added the grapes,” he noted.
Calagione estimated that he made about 4,400 cases of Noble Rot and expected it to linger on shelves until May. He anticipated prices of $12-13 for a 750-ml bottle, which will barely cover his costs. “I paid $62,000 alone to transport a tanker truck of temperature-controlled grape must from coast to coast,” he noted.
I’ve been a big fan of Dogfish ever since I moved to the States in 2004. The quality of their products speak for themselves, but I think what attracted me most to the brand was their obsessive attention to detail with regard to their marketing efforts.
Wineries should take a page out of the Dogfish book! They show that it’s still possible to be the best at what you do, whilst also having a little fun with your brand along the way.