Grape and grain? Grace, Jing-A pair on Marselan beer

Marselan is a top candidate for China’s “signature wine grape.” (Kind of like Malbec for Argentina or Sauvignon Blanc for New Zealand.) Thus, the next obvious step for this Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache cross is to transform it into beer, right!?

Way ahead of the game! This experiment is already brewing between a boutique winery and a craft brewery, namely, Grace Vineyard in Shanxi, which is providing grapes and barrels, and Jing-A in Beijing, which will leverage its beer experience and technology.

Marselan beer (马瑟兰啤酒) will be part of Jing-A’s wild lambic ale series, thus the project’s code name is MarsALEn. The series has featured lots of fruits so far, everything from Dongbei blueberries to — most recently — a raspberry beer aged in French oak barrels.

And for those into awards, Grace’s Marselan fruit is already responsible for some pretty tasty results. For example, Grace’s Marselan 2015 was among just 15 wines, out of more than 3,000 entries, to be awarded “best in show” at Decanter’s Asia Wine Awards in 2017. (The wine was so good, rumor has it they considered renaming the grape MarseYean after winemaker Lee Yeanyean.)

Anyway, when Jing-A’s Alex Acker messaged me a few weeks back about doing something grape-based, my first thought was “Marselan”, since this grape is a hot topic in wine circles and thus a fun story, one that might get beer lovers trying local wines and vice versa. It also fits into the World Marselan Day project I launched in 2018. (Our powwow was followed by a feast during which we taste-tested Jing-A’s new Guomao brewpub menu, put a dent in the beer stocks and knocked back a bottle of Grace sparking Cabernet Franc. Good times.)

And Grace Vineard’s Judy Chan has always been up for unique projects. Frankly, Grace has delivered the most creative, consistent and high-value profile over the past 20 years in China, from the expected Cabernets and Chardonnays to four types of sparkling wine to hard-to-find grapes, at least in China, such as Malbec and Aglianico. So a Marselan beer feels like a perfect fit for these guys. (Fun fact: In Chan’s early days running Grace, the winery’s tractor would go missing for days at a time because, hey, collectivism.)

Anyway, I also hope to document the grape-to-glass process of this beer. Such as how winemaker Lee Yeanyean has already chosen a parcel of grapes where the skins are a bit stronger and will survive the journey to Beijing better.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve tried Marselan many times in wine form, now it’s exciting to see what happens when those grapes are turned into beer thanks to a top boutique winery and craft brewer. And to hopefully taste those unique beverages side by side.

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