by Brian Stechschulte... Nov 7, 2012

Since Kim Sturdavant took the helm of Social Kitchen’s brewery earlier this year, a steady stream of new beer choices has hit the menu. Like most brewers, what Sturdavant creates is a matter of personal taste, choice ingredients and the prospect of experimentation. The latter arrived on Sturdavant’s phone back in September via text message. The short note was from a good friend and winemaker James Davids, who owns and operates Oro En Paz Winery on Treasure Island. A conversation ensued, 600 lbs of grapes were crushed and forty gallons of juice were blended with beer to create Saison du Sémillon, which is now on tap at Social Kitchen & Brewery.

In his own words, alongside photographs from the brew day, Sturdavant describes how the beer came about, what they aimed to produce, and their motivation behind this unique collaboration.

The beer was James’ idea. He sent me a text message one-day saying I should make a beer with Sémillon grapes. We talked about it a little and the logistics and cost of ingredients seemed to be pretty equal for both of us. It’s a good opportunity to have access to these grapes that are fresh squeezed and not have to pay tons of money to a winery to crush them for us. Rather, it was my friend and I just doing it all ourselves. The end result is just a combination of two people in two different fields working together to make something.

There was no doubt about it being a Belgian Beer. We chose Saison because we thought it would be the wildest tasting, earthy, natural, crisp, and interesting along with the bright peppery notes of the style. We also wanted it to be super dry and not quite refreshing, because we wanted a higher alcohol beer that’s special and decadent. We were shooting for a 7% beer, which I think is nice. It’s not going to be so big, boozy and cloying. We wanted to be able to taste the grapes and make it kind of a special beer. When you drink it you’re not just slamming back pints of it, you’re actually sipping it. With all those sort of ideas in mind that’s how we came up with the recipe.

The grapes were very fruity. When we were drinking the juice as it was crushed it kind of reminded me of pears, maybe green apple, a little bit of orange blossom or honeysuckle. Every time I’ve drank the crushed juice, because I’ve helped James in the past, the juice is so good I wonder why they’re even making wine out of it. We crushed the grapes a week before brewing, then put the juice in the fermentor a day after the beer was made. I’m surprised more people don’t use grapes because it’s a genuinely seasonal thing, which we really wanted to do during the harvest. You get to taste the terroir. Maybe it’s just the access to grapes and price.

I guess the fundamental idea behind all of it was that there are a lot of people who love beer and wine. A lot of brewers and craft beer enthusiasts love good wine, and the exact opposite is true of many winemakers who love good beer. For this beer we were trying to straddle the market and make something that people can enjoy without having to think about the wine versus beer debate, or that craft beer is cutting into wine sales, or anything like that. It’s all-good and at the end of the day we’re all in the exact same industry. They’re two different products, but the same people that drink beer, drink wine. It’s not one or the other.