I’ll admit that I get a little thrifty when a craft beer pushes past $19.99 for a 22-ounce bottle. That’s when an internal debate starts in my head, asking if less expensive alternative can provide as much pleasure and flavor as the pricey brew I’m looking at.
But this thriftiness gives way to curiosity when things get ultra-pricey, something I discovered the first time I saw a bottle of Scaldis Prestige de Nuits, a Belgian Strong Ale that costs $44.99 a bottle. Can the taste justify such a hefty price?
I had the chance to find out when I sampled Prestige de Nuits with Graham Haverfield, Beer director at the Wine Library in Springfield, N.J., and John Hoyos from Hunterdon Distributors, who was nice enough to provide the beer for our little tasting.
Prestige de Nuits pours a deep amber red with a lovely cream-colored head. The beer we sampled had lots of small dregs floating about the glass, but it had recently been in John’s car, so things were stirred up a bit. This wouldn’t have been an issue if we had let sit for a while before opening, but none of us wanted to wait. Can you blame us?
The nose is a bit sneaky on Prestige de Nuits, as it reveals only a small part of the beer’s true character. You get a bit of the Burgundy from the barrel, as well as some cherries, a waft of toffee and hint of alcohol, but it doesn’t really prepare you for the rush of flavors that follow.
Take a sip and this beer makes an immediate impression on your palate. The flavor starts off very vinous and slightly sour, evocative of port wine and dark dried fruits. These wine-like characteristics give way to richer notes of chocolate and cherries, with a little oaky vanilla and just a hint of spice dancing in the background. Trust me, your toes will curl in pleasure. As this rich middle recedes, you’re treated to a sweet and dry finish, with flavors of red raspberries and slightly tart grapes. Prestige de Nuits warms your chest as it goes down, but you wouldn’t guess this beer is 13% alcohol by volume, as the booziness is very well masked.
A good beer will have a beginning, a middle and an end that all flow in harmony and offer distinct, individual pleasures. A truly special beer will provide an odyssey of flavor, with each part of its taste being a journey onto itself. Prestige de Nuits falls into the latter category – it is a truly remarkable fermented beverage, one to be savored.
But is it worth the steep price? Wendy Littlefield, co-founder of the beer’s importer Vanberg & DeWulf, claims it’s a steal. “Think of what you would pay for a comparable experience with wine, the best cheeses, caviar, fine charcuterie, pralines and chocolates and I think you will agree – ounce for ounce this superb beer is a bargain.”
My tasting partner Graham Haverfield does the beer buying for a large wine store, so he’s in a unique position to calculate what a beer like Prestige de Nuits might set you back if it were part of the wine world. "Just looking at the level of craftsmanship involved in making such an intricate beer, the rarity of it and the high quality French oak used to mature it," Graham explained. "I would say this beer would cost anywhere from $100 to $150 if it were a wine.”
So perhaps the real question isn’t should you buy it, but can you buy it? Prestige de Nuits is only released once a year and isn’t an easy beer to find. Graham recommends that you plan ahead and get on a waiting list. “With highly anticipated releases such as Prestige de Nuits, I typically start creating waiting lists of customers months in advance,” he said. “Some limited releases don't even make it to the shelves since every bottle is spoken for prior to them even getting to the store.”
2012 Scaldis Prestige de Nuits should start flowing into stores in October, so now is the perfect time to call around to reserve a bottle. I’ve also seen the 2011 vintage still on shelves, so there’s a chance you can score a bottle today. If you’re having trouble tracking down a taste, you can contact the beer’s importer and they’ll do their best to help you out.
It’s rare that a beer makes such an impression on me, but Scaldis Prestige de Nuits is a revelation in a bottle. It’s a beer to be cherished and shared with friends, and one that’ll be gracing my table when the holidays roll around. And if I feel a pang of guilt for spending so much on a beer, I’ll simply think of what Prestige de Nuits would have cost if it were a wine or a fine Scotch. Then I’ll smile, take a sip and pat myself on the back for being such a bargain hunter.
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