It’s so obvious, you wonder why nobody did it before. Perhaps somebody tried and it didn’t work; or perhaps people just dismissed it as a crazy idea. But Viña Ventisquero in Chile has dared to give it a try and the result is Ilegal Malted Wine: a drink that is neither wine nor beer. I went to talk to Paolo Garbarini, who is in charge of the project, to find out more.

Paolo talking about the productWhat is Ilegal Malted Wine?

It’s a lightly sparkling blend of wine and craft beer. The product we’ve just launched is the 5th prototype and is a 60:40 mixture of Sauvignon Blanc and a lager that’s been specially developed. We blend the wine and lager together, add a tiny amount of sugar and bottle it. Then a second fermentation takes place in the bottle, in the same way as with the best sparkling wines and craft beers.

Was it easy to develop?

Not at all. We’ve been trialling different blends for two years and it’s still a work in progress. One of Viña Ventisquero’s winemakers, Angel Marchant, has been working on getting the wine just right, while a Czech master brewer has helped us develop a special lager, which includes four different types of malted barley and saaz hops. The idea was to get a nice, aromatic lager that wasn’t too bitter.

Why is it called Ilegal?

We gave it the name “Ilegal” [the Spanish spelling of “illegal”] because this product breaks all the rules.

Close up of labelHow did you come up with the idea?

Actually we were talking to our distributor in Brazil about exchange rate problems and the fact that just 1.9 litres of wine per person are consumed each year in Brazil. In fact, out of a population of 200 million, most of the wine is drunk by just 10 million people. Beer is the drink of choice in Brazil. So our starting point was in thinking about how to appeal to the Brazilian market, but of course the idea has grown and we think there is a global market for malted wine.

What has been the response to the product so far?

Amazing! I took Ilegal Malted Wine to the annual wine trade fair in Germany, Prowein, and there was tremendous interest. Right now, we have companies in Canada and a range of countries across Europe ready to place an initial trial order. The only problem is waiting for the customs officials around the world to figure out what customs tariff to charge, as this is a brand new product and doesn’t fit into the wine or beer categories.

Paolo and Helen with productWhat do you think is the future for Ilegal Malted Wine?

We think malted wine will appeal to people looking for a light, refreshing alternative to wine or beer. It’s great after a day working in the garden, at a party or just to help you unwind after a long day at work. It’s lower in calories than still or sparkling wine and, with an alcohol content of 6% ABV, Ilegal Malted is sure to be popular with people looking for a drink that is lower in alcohol than wine.

And this Sauvignon Blanc:lager blend is just the start. We want to experiment with other varieties of wine and try out different styles of beer. Once you start to break the rules, you realize that there is a whole world of new things to be tried.

Tasting note:

Ilegal Malted is a refreshing, lightly fizzy drink with clean, fresh aromas of hops and citrus fruit (grapefruit). In the mouth, it’s fresh, fruity and thirst-quenching with a pleasant texture. Definitely worth trying.

Find out more about Ilegal Malted wine: