Beer Geek

Forget the Champagne! Fancy beers are fit for a toast

Aug. 2, 2012 at 1:38 PM ET

Kick the Champagne to the curb. Brewers are vying for a seat at the table when it comes to celebratory events.

I’ve been shunning Champagne for years, partly out of jaunty non-conformity (I’m quite the rebel) and partly because a finely crafted beer is simply more appealing to me than most Champagnes. And while you might guess differently, I’m not in the minority – at least among men.

According to a 2010 study conducted by Wakefield Research, over 60 percent of men would opt to toast with beer versus Champagne, if given the choice.  Maybe I’m not such a non-conformist after all!

Someone who shares this view is Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams, America’s largest craft brewery. Unlike me and my millions of beer-favoring compadres, he’s in a position to prove it.

Survey: What drink do you toast with on special occasions? 

Last week, Koch and his crew from the Boston Beer Company released a one-off beer created specifically to take on a champagne mainstay, the wedding toast.  Brewlywed Ale, a crisp and fruity Belgian-style pale golden ale with an ABV of 8%, was limited to just 500 cases, which were on sale only at the brewery for a single day. 

“Some consumers and food writers pigeonhole beer,” Koch replied when asked why he created a wedding beer. “Brewlywed is a chance to show America that beer belongs in special moments alongside other beverages.”

Koch’s first attempt to dethrone champagne came a couple of years back when Samuel Adams released Infinium, a dry and tart Bière de Champagne aimed squarely at the New Year’s Eve toast. One look at its shapely bottle, oversized cork and its fancy gold-on-black label, and you know that this beer is asking you to kick the old-school bubbly to the curb.

“The brewer’s art allows us to deliver the tastes, the aromas and the textures that you want to have in those special moments, and do it in ways Champagne can’t,” Koch explained.

Samuel Adams isn’t the first brewery to make a beer aimed at special occasions. Oregon’s Pelican Pub and Brewery makes Bridal Ale, a beer originally brewed for the wedding of two staff members and inspired by French country ales.  Bell’s Brewery also makes a dry and complex bridal beer called Bell’s Wedding Ale; I guess the name “Wedding Bell’s” was just too obvious.

A beer doesn’t need to say “Wedding” or “Anniversary” or “New Job” on the label to be worthy of a special occasion, but I recommend following these five rules to make sure no one asks “Umm…where’s the Champagne?”

  1. The beer MUST have a cork.  “Popping the cork” is big part of that celebratory moment, the sound of special times about to begin.  No one is going to get excited by the sound of “pfftt” followed by an aluminum cap clinking on a countertop.
  2. It must come in a bottle fancy enough to impress your 82-year-old grandmother.  If Nana doesn’t think it’s classy, you’re never going to convince her it’s a fine substitute for her Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante.
  3. The beer should be very effervescent.  I know this is a little limiting, but those little fizzies streaming up from the bottom of the glass are part of the magic.  There’s a reason they call it bubbly. 
  4. The beer should be golden in color, the paler, the better. I’m flexible on this, but you don’t want to choose a beer so dark that people to wonder why they can’t see all the lovely bubbles.
  5. The flavor should be dry and fruity enough to make people forget that it wasn’t made with grapes. It’s okay that it tastes like beer, but it should taste like the Champagne of beers, in a non-Miller-High-Life kind of way.

There are many wonderful beers that check all of these boxes. There’s DeuS Brut Des Flandres, a Belgian Ale that is fermented in the French champagne tradition and looks like Dom Perignon, but can be found for less than $30 a bottle. Another impressive and delicious corked wonder is Dominus Vobiscum Brut, a lush and bubbly French Canadian Bière de Champagne.  For an even more wine-like experience, there’s Allagash Victoria, a pale Belgian Ale brewed with Chardonnay grapes that’s sweet and bubbly, and manages to have the best traits of both beer and sparkling wine.

So go ahead and toast your wedding, raise a glass to your new baby, celebrate that promotion, christen that boat --  try skipping the Champagne and do it with the world’s greatest beverage instead.  If I have the choice between the two, I’ll choose a finely crafted beer every time, and have a world-class beverage in my glass on a Korbel budget.

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter. 

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