As fortune would have it, I find myself this evening in possession of two beers fermented not with beer yeasts, but Champagne yeasts: Kasteel Cru from Alsace, France, and Šamp from Prague, Czech Republic. Since both are blonde lagers of about the same strength – 5.2% for the former and 5% for the latter – I thought it made sense to taste them off against one another, which is precisely what I did.
In the glass, the beers look quite different, with the Kasteel being extremely pale of hue and the Šamp bearing more the rich gold colour of a Pilsner Urquell. Ditto the nose, with a fresh, dry, lightly floral and citric aroma emanating from the French beer and a stronger, sweeter, dried apricot and spice fragrance coming off the Czech beer. Now for the true test, a taste.
For all its hype, I’ve got to say the Kasteel is singularly unremarkable. It is certainly dry, and as advertised, the carbonation does seem more active than that of an ordinary lager, but there the Champagne similarities end. What I like about the famous French sparkling wine is its integral complexity, with each sip revealing new elements and forming a unique experience all its own, whereas the Kasteel seems to be content in delivering the same lightly lemony, faintly grainy flavour each and every time. Perhaps the idea was not to challenge drinkers more readily familiar with Coors Light or Heineken Light than with DeuS, and if that is indeed the case, then they have done well. For this aficionado of both beer and Champagne, however, I’m afraid it’s just a little too ordinary to keep me coming back.
The Šamp, on the other hand, has problems of its own. I have been raised not to expect massive amounts of fruitiness from my lagers, and yet this is full of sweet apricot to the point that I can barely get past the taste. When I do make that difficult leap, I find a pleasing biscuity quality that, yes, I would say is a bit reminiscent of Champagne, but getting there is definitely not half the fun. In the finish, I’m left with a lingering sense of sugar on the back of my chops, and a quizzical look on my face as I wonder what this was really supposed to be.
The moral of this story: There may be room in the beer world for a 5%ish alcohol lager fermented with Champagne yeast, but that slim space is certainly nestled somewhere in between these two. Until that changes, I’ll reserve my Champagne beer drinking to the méthode champenoise Belgian ale, DeuS.