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I don’t love champagne. That’s a hell of a thing to say to you Commentists after being away so long, I know, but it’s the only honest way for me to launch back into this. I’ve had some good champagnes, and they were fine, but I’ve had to conclude that champagne is just not something I get excited about, and so I’ve been interested for a while in finding a beer for those champagne-toast occasions. Beers in the actual bière de champagne style, like Malheur or DeuS, have not been big hits for me, as I don’t generally find the flavors that interesting. Eight years or so ago, Sam Adams and Weihenstephaner collaborated on Infinium, a bière de champagne brewed specifically to be a replacement for sparkling wine, but I passed it up due to the then-preposterous $20 price tag and by most accounts it wasn’t very good anyway. My favorite beer so far for this purpose is Brooklyn Sorachi Ace Saison; it doesn’t exactly taste or look or feel like champagne, but the packaging looks the part and the hops remind me of fireworks so I’m always happy to buy a bottle for a special occasion.
It turns out, though, that this year’s trendy evolution of the IPA is champagne-inspired: the “brut IPA” (presumably so named because French people would start yelling if you called it the “champagne IPA”). Brut IPAs, as I understand them, are IPAs brewed with the fruitier hop varieties and then stripped of all residual sugars through the introduction of an enzyme called amyloglucosidase, leaving the finished product extremely dry. I’d never heard of them until a couple of local takes on the substyle—Four Noses Brut IPA from Broomfield, and WeldWerks Chardonnay Brut from Greeley—appeared on the shelf of the local beer store, and I was instantly curious, not so much as to which beer would be better, but which beer would be the better stand-in for a real champagne. That’s how I’ll be evaluating them here, without any regard for the brewers’ intentions.
Four Noses Brut IPA pours a little bubblier, with WeldWerks Chardonnay Brut slightly paler and cloudier, but they’re similar-looking enough that I had to take care not to swap their positions on my coffee table. The head on each quickly reduces to a thin film, which I’ll admit may be the result of inattentive glass-cleaning rather than any inherent property of the beers. Brut IPA smells a touch grainy and tastes appropriately crisp and dry. As far as I’ve been able to find, Four Noses has been publicly close-mouthed about what exactly is in it—I may be tricking myself here, but I think I’m detecting a bit of grape juice underneath a juicy, New England-type hop bill, and a brighter-than-average carbonation. There’s no mistaking the grape flavor in Chardonnay Brut though; it’s immediately detectable on the nose and it competes with and even wins out over the hops, which per the label are a New England-style combination of the newfangled Mosaic, El Dorado, and Nelson Sauvin with the old-school Styrian Goldings. And it’s rare that I’ll spend much time thinking about the carbonation level of a beer, but he prickly, champagne-sharp mouthfeel (snicker) of this one really completes the impression.
lady snow, how much do you like champagne?
lady snow says: A LOT.
make it snow says: You’ve picked up the WeldWerks first. What do you think of it?
lady snow says: The first thing I tasted was the hoppiness, and then the fruitiness. Neither’s overwhelming; it’s sweet up front, but not like a cheap-wine sweet. And then it’s so dry on the finish, and I really like that transition. I love dry champagnes especially. It makes me want to smack my tongue against the roof of my mouth.
make it snow says: I think that’s the feature I liked most in Chardonnay Brut, the dryness.
lady snow says: Let me try to clean my palate here before I try the other. I think of bad cheap wines–Franzia boxed wine and the like–as, like, a sickly-sweet, and that’s different from a dessert wine’s sweetness. The sweetness in the WeldWerks beer is more like that. It’s well-balanced.
make it snow says: All right, how about the Four Noses.
lady snow says: This smells breadier. Technical term.
make it snow says: I said grainier which I don’t think is any more technical.
lady snow says: Again there’s that sweetness, and the hoppiness I expect from an IPA. But it doesn’t have that mouth-smacking dry finish. It’s drier but that’s not nearly as pronounced.
make it snow says: Definitely drier than your average IPA. Which of these would you rather do a New Year’s Eve toast with?
lady snow says: Oh, the WeldWerks, for sure. It’s just more like champagne.
Give Brut IPA points in one area: Clarity. Champagne’s clear, sparkling appearance may be more iconic than its taste, and while Brut IPA isn’t quite that crystal-clear, if you put it in a champagne flute you could pretty definitely see all the way through it. I really enjoyed both these beers, but in the end I felt that WeldWerks did everything Four Noses did, and did it more aggressively. That go-for-broke approach paid off with a beverage that—much like WeldWerks’ fantastic range of dessert-themed beers—tastes like what it says on the can without failing to also taste like beer. Cheers.
make it snow is an alot of beer and a big fan of Wendy’s. While writing this review he drank 12 ounces of WeldWerks Chardonnay Brut and 20 ounces of Four Noses Brut IPA, and lady snow drank 4 ounces of each. The snows also had beers recently with KSK’s Cuntler (the inventor of Beer Barrel) and Pickett’s Charge, and they’re delightful people. Highly recommended.