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/// BEAUMONT'S JOURNAL
 
DECEMBER 2008/JANUARY 2009 » BACK TO BEAUMONT'S JOURNAL INDEX
 
Beaumont's Journal
What Cost, Good Beer?
How much would you pay for a couple of bottles of beer? Four bucks? Five? Twenty if they’re something special? Forty if they’re really, really special?

How about $800? Yes, you read that right: eight hundred samolians, as Barney Rubble used to say. For two… bottles… of… beer. Different bottles, mind you, although interestingly, both Danish, priced at $400 apiece, more or less.

People really are paying this much for these beers, too, or at least I’m told they are. I haven’t. As a lucky member of the Fourth Estate, I was privileged to sample not just one but both of these stunningly expensive brews within a single weekend. Mind you, I had to go to Copenhagen to do it, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with the beers.

The first of these upscale ales I had heard of long before I took off for Denmark, and perhaps you have, too. It’s called Vintage No. 1 and hails from the Jacobsen craft brewery, owned and operated by Carlsberg. Right, that Carlsberg. But in contrast to the craft efforts laid on by some international brewing monoliths, Jacobsen is allowed to operate mostly independently of its lager-brewing parent, an assertion made to me by several of its employees, including Head Brewer Jens Eiken. Based on the output I’ve tasted from the brewery, it’s a claim I’m inclined to believe.

After all, what megabrewer is going to allow an offshoot to produce as ridiculous a beer as Coffee Mint Stout? Carlsberg did, although I’ve got to guess, to a certain degree at least, unwittingly. Good thing they did, too, as it was quite tasty: “full-bodied, beautifully structured and highly enjoyable,” I noted at the time.

I was privileged to sample both of these stunningly expensive brews within a single weekend.

Anyway, back to the Vintage No. 1. Putting to market the world’s most expensive beer was not the intent, I was told — an assertion I have a little harder time believing. Rather, the price was chosen to reflect the time, energies and artistic commitment that went into its creation, including the original art labels created by Danish artist Frans Kannik. It was also handy that the price in Danish kroner happened to correspond to the year of the beer’s release, 2008. (When I was in Copenhagen, that DK2008 converted to about US$400, more or less. It’s closer to $350 as I type these words, but who knows where it will be by the time you read them.)

The other beer came as more of a surprise, as I was entirely unaware of its development right up until the moment I received an invitation to its release at a party in Aalborg, which I was unfortunately unable to attend. No matter, as it turned out, since I was also invited to a grand unveiling of the beer at the European Beer Festival a few days later.

The beer’s mouthful of a name is Egtvedpigens Bryg, which I’m told translates to “The Egtved Girl’s Brew,” and it is the creation of Søgaard’s Brewery of Aalborg. It’s not a hopped beer but a gruit, based on archaeological examination of a bowl excavated, along with the body of a girl, from a Central Jutland grave thought to date to 1357 B.C. Claus Søgaard decided it would be a good idea to re-create that beer, and so, with the help of his German-born brewer, Christoph Behnke, the process was begun.

Analysis of the pottery from the grave revealed more than 50 substances included in the ancient Danish brew, some of which, Behnke told me, were thought to be hallucinogenic and others poisonous. He didn’t include those. What he did infuse into the finished beer, which was brewed with barley, two types of ancient wheats and honey, were lime flowers, juniper berries, dropwort, cloves, cranberries and at least one other “secret” ingredient.

Both beers took the better part of a year to make, the Vintage having spent time in both Swedish and French oak, and the Egtvedpigens conditioning for at least eight months in an undisclosed venue. The latter brew bested the price of the Vintage by a few kroner, reaching retail at DK2021.

And so, you ask, what did these beers taste like? Was one better than the other?

As they are such different beers, it is difficult, if not impossible, to compare them directly. Both are beautifully structured brews, but as one is hopped and the other not, one with a decided oak effect and the other with none, I couldn’t say that the Vintage is superior to the Egtvedpigens or vice versa. Simply, I’d be delighted with either in my glass.

The Vintage, I found, has a nose of vanilla, cinnamon and other brown spice, stewed fruit, faint charcoal and a hint of hazelnut, with a complex character of dried fruit (raisin, prune, date), some soft spiciness, more vanilla along with hints of cocoa, some orange zest and a modestly bitter and gently alcoholic finish. It weighs in at 10.5% alcohol.

The somewhat stronger (11.7%) Egtvedpigens, on the other hand, has a fruity-herbaceous aroma with perfumey orange, lemon balm, loads of floral notes and a faint hint of oily, resinous herbs. The body, I found, could stand as a guide for gruit brewers everywhere, with all its disparate elements — including candied lemon, honey, sweet florals, multitudinous herbals and gently warming alcohol — melding together in near-perfect harmony so that nothing disturbs the balance of the rest.

Are they worth $400, or even $350, apiece? If you’re Bill Gates or Donald Trump or Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller (a Danish billionaire), then absolutely, yes. As a person of more modest means, you’ll probably want to stare long and hard into the mirror before you drop such a sum on either beer.

If you do, though, I can tell you this much: You won’t be disappointed.

 

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