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Beer on a Champagne budget

The mainstream press loves stories about expensive beers – maybe so they can write headlines like the one above.

The Sunday Times in Britain examined beer menus in upscale restaurants yesterday, noting early on:

Rupert Ponsonby, a spokesman for the Beer Naturally campaign, set up by brewers to encourage restaurants to widen their beer selection, said: “Drinks like DeuS (from the Bosteels brewery in Belgium) show what’s possible and will help change perceptions of beer. It’s crazy that a restaurant can have 250 wines and just three beers.”

The story pays particular attention to DeuS, first because it is expensive, but also because of the way it is produced. After being brewed, DeuS travels to a cellar near Epernay in Champagne and is re-fermented like a sparkling wine to give it its bubbles. It is remains for nine months, then is riddled (like Champagne). Yeast that gathers at the neck of the bottle is frozen and removed (like sparkling wine) before the bottles are corked for sale.

Is Joanna Simon, the Sunday Times wine critic, impressed?

“It’s a very good beer. But no matter how it’s dressed up – and, boy, it is dressed up – it’s still only beer.

“The palate is creamy-smooth, fruity and malty-sweet, and the finish is clean with characteristic beer bitterness. But it’s short and that’s the problem. Why pay good money for a taste that disappears in a couple of seconds? I’d rather have half a bottle of good champagne.”

That’s OK, but it misses the point. Truthfully, I’m not a much of a fan of DeuS – the combination of many spices doesn’t work for me and the Champagne aspect seems like a gimmick.

But distinctive beers – and that means good tasting as well as unusual – push our idea of what beer should be forward, creating demand for a wider range of beers that eventually spread the category horizontally. That’s worth paying more for.

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