Toast the New Year with beer
New Years Eve is a night for frivolity and toasts. Effervescent festivities call for an equally effervescent beverage. For most this means champagne. But many, like me, aren't so keen on the vinous variety of bubbly. We would prefer beer. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research found that a majority of men would rather mark the turning of the year with beer. Can beer possibly rise to the occasion? You bet it can. Here's a rundown of four "champagne beers" to usher in the New Year.
Like champagne, these celebratory suds are brewed using the traditional méthode champenoise. After fermentation the beer is bottled with a dosage of sugar and yeast. The resulting refermentaion in the bottle gives the beer its effervescence. This step is followed by the rémuage or riddling step, during which the bottles are stored upside down, allowing yeast sediment to settle into the neck of the bottle. Riddling is followed by dégorgement or disgorgement. The bottle necks are frozen and the bottles are opened. Pressure from carbonation forces the frozen sediment layer out of the bottle. Finally, in what is known as the dosage d'expedition, the bottles are topped-off with beer, dosed with a small amount of sugar and re-corked. The result is a lively, fine-bubbled beer that many would mistake for champagne.
Perhaps the best known of these beers is Deus Brut des Flandres from Belgium's Brouwerij Bosteels. Deus uncorks with a pop that heralds the ebullient beverage to come. It pours light-blond with tiny bubbles and a meringue-like white head. In my experience, the flavor can vary from bottle to bottle or batch to batch, with some bottles decidedly sweeter than others. Fruit is the dominant character, with vinous apple, pear, and citrus underscored by herbal and spicy notes from the moderate use of European hops. The bitterness is low, making for a sweeter beer, but the dry finish keeps it crisp. Deus retails locally for around $28 for a 750 ml bottle.
The newest kid on the champagne beer block is Infinium, a limited-
edition, collaborative effort of Sam Adams and Germany's Weihenstephan Brewery, the world's oldest brewery. Two years in the making, Infinium is brewed to the standards of the German Reinheitsgebot or beer purity law, which requires that it be made from only barley malt, hops, water, and yeast. The promotional material for this beer trumpets Infinium as "a whole new style of beer." This is a dubious claim as there are already a few champagne beers on the market. They did apparently employ some rearranging of the standard brewing process, a method for which they have a patent pending. The marketing materials lack specifics though, so it's difficult to determine just how radical a departure from the norm Infinium really is.
Infinium pours a deep golden color and sports a large, fluffy, white head. Vinous fruit flavors and sweet, bready malt dominate with moderate alcohol notes underneath. Splashes of herbs and black pepper give it a little bit of depth. Prickly carbonation enhances a bone-dry finish after a somewhat sweet start. A 750 ml bottle retails for about $20. It was released at the beginning of December and was selling fast, but there are still a few bottles lurking about if you look.
Malheur Bière Brut (Brut Reserve) from Brouwerij De Landtsheer is another Belgian entry into the champagne beer arena. It pours a cloudy straw color with a voluminous foamy cap. The flavor is grainy sweet with notes of banana, peppery spice, and alcohol. It has appropriately perky carbonation and a dry finish. You can also try Malheur Dark Brut, with roasted malts bringing an added layer of chocolaty goodness. A bottle of Malheur will set you back about $25.
The last of the true champagne beers is Eisenbahn Lust from the
Sudbrack Brewery of Brazil. This one pours a bit darker than the others, an inviting orange/amber color. Like the others it sports a fluffy head that leaves lace on the glass as you sip. The flavors are also a bit darker, with caramel and graham cracker malt coming through more strongly. Light vinous fruitiness rests on top with notes of spiced apples and grape. Although I have seen other beers from this brewery on store shelves, I haven't seen Lust in the Twin Cities for a while. If you can find a bottle, it should retail at around $30.
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