The World of Champagne Beers

A small crop of méthode champenoise beers bridge the gap between beer and wine drinkers.

Over the years, numerous attempts have been made to bridge the gap between wine and beer drinkers, or to be more blunt, those who view beer as beneath them or wine as all hoity-toity. Oenophile brewer Jean-Pierre Van Roy has fermented his world-famous Cantillon lambics with grapes from St. Emillion, while craft beer enfant terrible Sam Calagione envisioned a beer as a beverage “to please the chardonnay drinker” with his ancient recipe Dogfish Head Midas Touch. Then there are brewers like Colorado’s Adam Avery, who have more recently taken the tack of aging their beers in disused wine barrels.

None has been so successful, however, as the small crop of méthode champenoise beers, whose ranks this year grew by one with the addition of Dominus Vobiscum Brut from Québec’s MicroBrasserie Charlevoix.

The first such beer appeared at the turn of the century, when a Belgian brewery known as Malheur—literally bad times, a typical example of Belgian tongue-in-cheek humor—premiered Malheur Brut, boasting that it was the first beer ever to benefit from bottle-fermentation, riddling and yeast disgorgement. (The brewery refers to the process as méthode originale.) It was and remains a laudable first step, with a perfumed aroma and fruity-floral body. But with a pronounced hop bitterness taking hold in the second half and carrying through on the finish, it is without question first and foremost a beer, albeit an extraordinary and most unusual one.

The brewery’s second méthode originale creation, Malheur Dark, stands even more firmly in the beer camp, pleasing aficionados with strong notes of chocolate, hazelnut and prune leading to a dry and lightly bitter finish.

Hot on Malheur’s tail came DeuS, the crowning creation of the Bosteels family brewery. Most unusually, Bosteels entrusts part of the year-long process of its creation to the French, specifically an unnamed champagne house near Épernay, where DeuS is trucked in vats for its méthode champenoise treatment. The beer’s intensely floral nose and herbaceous, pétillante body, however, moves it perhaps too far in the opposite direction, alienating some beer drinkers even as it increases its appeal on the wine side.

The new Dominus Vobiscum Brut, which undergoes the entire champenoise process in-brewery on newly purchased equipment, seems to bridge the gap between the two. Its dry, toasty aroma holds muted notes of tropical fruit and spice, while the rich body begins with a soft, perfumey sweetness before drying to a complex character, with subtle dried fruit and biscuity malt notes for the wine set and a gentle hoppiness for the beer side. With this brew, perhaps we can all get along!       

Published on September 23, 2010



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