In session... with Ben McFarland

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Related tags: Champagne, Yeast, Beer, Brewing

As wedding season approaches Beer Writer of the Year Ben McFarland makes the case for champagne beers."Beer?" I'm asked quizzically by a rather posh...

As wedding season approaches Beer Writer of the Year Ben McFarland makes the case for champagne beers.

"Beer?" I'm asked quizzically by a rather posh sort from the Buckingham Palace Press Office.

"Yes. Beer," I say. "I'm calling to ask whether beer was served to the royal wedding guests on Saturday?"

After a prolonged silence, I'm put on hold. I think I'm annoying her. She thinks I'm being deliberately facetious, but I'm not. I can think of far more facetious questions. "Was James Hewitt the Best Man?" is one. "Did Big Ears over do it and start chatting up the salad?" is another.

No, the beer query is a serious one. After all, Prince Charles has his own range of beers - the delectable Duchy Originals. In 2002 he was named Beer Drinker of the Year by the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group and, lest we forget, beer is his princedom's so-called national drink.

But I've asked a "silly" question and for that I get a surly answer: "Wine and champagne were served but no beer."

No hoppy tipple for the happy couple then. Shame on you Charlie. Your royal highness has missed an opportunity of the most golden, and rather sparkly, kind: champagne beers - the latest thing on the brewing block. "I do" brews with a kick as good as champagne and the looks and taste to dignify any raised and toasted flute. They save the taxpayer a few quid too.

What better way to enthral the laughing gear of lords and ladies than DeuS Les Brut des Flandres? It's the nearest beer gets to champagne. It looks like champagne - Dom Perignon style bottle, cork, foil and wire - and it's made like champagne. After DeuS is fermented in Belgium by the Bosteels Brewery, which also makes the famous Kwak beer, it is trundled over to the Champagne region of France, where it is laid down in caves for 12 months of indulgent maturation.

Fermentable sugars and yeast are added, the beer is bottled and placed neck-down in specially designed racks. They then slowly turn the bottles and increase the gradient so that the yeast is released from the wall of the bottle. It collects in the neck, it's frozen and then dispatched by the pressure - a time-honoured process called "remuge" and one used to make the region's best champagnes.

The bottle is topped up, dressed in all its finery and sent off to be consumed at weddings over small talk and fancy canapés.

Another bubbly-beer to look out for is Kasteel Cru (pictured)​. It is a beer with a difference. A beer with a different kind of yeast - the same yeast used for champagne. Much of the art of brewing relies on using different yeasts but using wine yeast has hitherto proved tricky.

Yet Kasteel Cru seems to have cracked it. A delicate, pale straw lager that goes down easier than a South American footballer. With no strong malty or hoppy influences, a massive 95 per cent of the flavour is attributable to the unique yeast.

It's brewed in the Alsace region using French spring barley and Kallertau hops by the master brewers of Karlsbrau as part of a collaboration with Coors. The secret behind the champagne fermentation is being kept firmly under beret and stetson respectively, but its presence is there for all to see in the shape of a creamy, lingering and textured head - and a lot of bubbles.

There are 22 billion bubbles in the average bottle of champagne. I don't know how I know that or how many are in Kasteel Cru, it's difficult to keep count, but like I say, it's a lot.

Other wedding alternatives capable of relegating sparkling wines to a supporting role include lip-smacking IPAs drier than a sawdust Martini, lively lagers, Belgian fruit beers (who needs the clichéd Kir Royale?) and golden summer ales of which there are simply too many to choose from. With the wedding season about to throw back its veil, licensees should give some of these beers their blessing.

Ben was awarded the title of Beer Writer of the year for 2004 by the British Guild of Beer Writers.

Related topics: Beer

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