From the brewer’s description:
“Gran Missionario celebrates the intersection of cultures that occurred in the missions set up all along the Pacific Coast of the Americas. Wheat and muscat wine grapes were among the plants brought over from Spain, being tasty as well as essential for church services.
Flaked wheat and oats add a rich creaminess to our base beer, substantial at 6.8% alc/vol. To that we add muscat of Alexandria, an “aromatic” grape grown at the Spanish missions. They have a perfumy, spicy quality that punches through the wheat and malt flavors. . . . [F]igs, which were brought to San Diego in 1760 . . . add a deep caramelly fruitiness to this dry and creamy beer.”
“Craft beer” is an interesting term. Technically, it’s just about production and ownership (more on this in another post). But the term evokes in the laymen something that is inherent in modern American beer brewing – creativity. Those familiar with German beer likely know about Reinheitsgebot – the Bavarian purity law of 1516 restricting the ingredients of beer to barley, hops, and water (with yeast being added to the law once it was understood what it did). Reinheitsgebot led, among other things, to the popularity of Pilsners in Bavaria and Light Lagers. This influence can be seen in the macrobrews dominating American beer, with Pilsners and Light Lagers dominating (though these come nowhere close to adherence to Reinheitsgebot, depending as they do on cheaper adjuncts like corn or rice for fermentable sugars).
All this serves as useful background for understanding what it is that craft brewers are attempting. Craft brewers are like chefs, with different philosophies, different influences, and different goals when it comes to palate manipulation. 5 Rabbit’s Gran Missionario highlights both the goals and influences of this particular brewer, but it also exemplifies the nature and spirit of American Craft Beer (if not the peak of the trends) and its similarities with creative cuisine.
First, note the use of certain traditional methods and ingredients. Despite the restriction on grain types in the Reinheitsgebot, wheat was widely employed in Europe (and especially Northern Germany) in beer making. Oats also had a long tradition in beer making. Moreover, how much more traditional do you want than using Belgian yeasT?
Second, note the creative use of additional ingredients. Grape must made from muscat of Alexandria grapes? If you don’t know wine, you probably don’t even understand the question! Grape must is freshly pressed juice containing seeds, stems, and skin of the fruit, and muscat of Alexandria is a white wine grape of ancient heritage. Wine grapes in beer? And what about figs? Nothing screams beer to me less than figs!
Third, the creativity is not just creative use of ingredients for the sake of being flashy (though that happens too!), but instead is meant to make an impact around a theme. This is where the influence of cuisine comes in. 5 Rabbit tries to celebrate Latin American culture and cuisine. This beer specifically is inspired by the missions that were a critical part of life in colonized Latin America (including California). So the wine and figs are not just there to be crazy and avant-garde. They evoke a heritage with twists and turns and various levels of absorption into this crazy place called America.
As you drink this beer, you’ll notice the grape must is let the beer linger on your tongue. The body is thicker than a lot of beers, and to me this is evocative of both the figs and of certain white wines (though I promise I know nothing of wine in earnest). There’s a sweetness that masks any of the bitterness of the beer (only 25 IBUs anyway), and a haziness that makes me feel like I just poured a nice juice.
So we are pouring 5 Rabbit Gran Missionario 2015, a double wheat with muscat of Alexandria grape must and mission figs as our beer passport this week to highlight the creative drive and the cultural influences that are possible in thoughtful American craft brewing. This beer highlights what is right with American brewing right now. So grab some tacos, a burrito, or an empanada, and enjoy a glass of this fine beer before it’s all gone.