Although Miller High Life has “Champagne of Beers” printed on the cans, the title truly belongs to North Coast Brewing Company’s Grand Cru. At almost $15 per bomber, a limited release, and 12.9% ABV (alcohol by volume), you really will be living the “High Life.”
The Grand Cru is one of many examples of a forward-looking brewery blurring the lines between traditional brewing styles. The Cru makes use of the widely available, yet typically uninspiring, pilsner malt, common in pale lagers and generally sold with 29 other companions. However, North Coast dresses up the modest malt by finishing the beer with agave nectar prior to aging it in bourbon barrels. The brewery then ferments the Cru with the same Belgian yeast strain used for their tart, fruity Saison. The combination of fruit/tart from the yeast and the muted sweetness of the agave gives the Cru its crisp, champagne-like flavor.
The beer pours a beautiful, slightly hazy gold color so perfect it made my mouth water. The head is a true-white and well-structured one, but it dissipates quickly, leaving a little white halo atop the glass. If you haven’t already noticed, this beer is quite aesthetically appealing.
Leaning in for the smell, I immediately notice cinnamon apples. Every whiff I took smelled like Mott’s applesauce dusted with cinnamon sugar. This was by no means a bad thing; cinnamon sugar apple sauce is a staple of any solid childhood (or mine at least).
The taste is crisp and dry, fruity and slightly tart with many small bubbles. The mouth feel is quite light and slightly sticky as a result of the agave nectar added near the end of the boil. Surprisingly, I failed to notice any bourbon or oak attributes throughout my tasting. Perhaps it served to mute the sweetness of the agave nectar, but otherwise I cannot find its fingerprints anywhere in the Grand Cru.
In all, the Grand Cru is a wonderful beer, but without its appearance, you might not even be sure it’s a beer. It could just as well pass itself off as a hearty cider or some strange champagne.
I shared the beer with several friends and roommates, and asked them to tell me what style of beer they tasted. I received a few tentative replies, but most people said they were unsure. The high alcohol content and light color suggest it may be some sort of Belgian quadruple ale but bourbon barrel aging is more common in heavier, maltier beers. This beer defies traditional brewing styles and can only be understood by a personal taste test. It’s not a quadruple, it’s not a Pilsner; it’s the Grand Cru: the champagne of beers.