When we were leaving Spain, we were browsing the duty free in the Barcelona airport, looking at their meagre selection of whiskies, trying to find a nice bottle to bring home with us, I spotted a display of Estrella Damm’s Inedit. Inedit is a beer created by, according the the little booklet that comes with every bottle to hammer home the point you will be purchasing and drinking a truly remarkable beer, “globally acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià, Juli Soler and sommeliers Ferran Centelles and David Seijas from El Bulli Restaurant.” It also boasts that it is a “beer specifically created to pair with food”. I first saw this beer when we had lunch one afternoon at a great paella place by the sea. At a table near us was a family of tourists with a couple of young children. The dad ordered a bottle of beer; it was apparently some fancy beer despite the Damm label around the neck, because after serving it was kept in a bucket of ice at the end of the table, much like a nice bottle of wine. One of the kids, who looked to be about six years old, asked the dad if it was dry-hopped, which Anna thought was hilarious because in that moment she saw our future. I was curious about it because while Spain isn’t exactly famed for its beer, I do like to try as many local beers as I can.
I’ve hinted at craft beer’s “wine envy” here and in comments here, and while this isn’t craft beer by any reasonable definition of the term, don’t we have in Damm Inedit the most literal example of beer trying to prove that it is sophisticated enough for wine drinkers? That finally we have a beer refined enough that it can be drunk with fine food?
This idea is, of course, nonsense. There are plenty of beers that go excellently with food. Yes, even high-end food. Last fall we went to New York and had a superb meal at wd-50. For my main, I had Wagyu steak with barley and malt and it went wonderfully with a malty German lager. And here I am at Au Pied du Cochon’s cabane à sucre–maybe not fine dining, but gourmet nevertheless–feeding beer to a chicken head:The idea that there is now finally a beer good enough to accompany fine food says more about Ferran Adrià’s ignorance about beer than it does about anything else. But, hey, it was four euro a bottle, so why not try it?
We decided to try it with one of the best foods to pair with beer: (homemade) sausage on a bun. Of course, had I looked more closely at the Inedit booklet before starting dinner I would have realised that such a fine beer wasn’t made for such rough and ready proletarian fare as sausage on a bun, but was rather “created to pair with the most exquisite and challenging foods. Foods that contain: citrus and oils: i.e. salads, vinegar based sauces. Bitter notes: i.e. asparagus, artichokes, rucula. Oily textures: ie. salmon, tuna, fatty cheese.” Though from the beer’s website we see that “this beer can take acidic, sweet and sour flavours by the hand. the symphony of flavours in each dish is different, but there can be a common thread capable of unifying them all, for a sense of continuity so there is no need to switch drinks.” So maybe it can go with most foods? Sausage it is, with a side of grilled potatoes and zucchini.
Maybe we should have eaten something closer to the recommended foods to get an idea of how this beer pairs with food because it brought very little to the complex seasoning of the sausage. It is, in effect, a pretty ordinary Belgian-style blanche with subtle coriander and orange peel notes, and a clean finish that suggests a bottom-fermenting yeast. The subtlety of the spicing verges on blandness. It was okay, but not something I feel inclined to try again. There are far better examples of this style: Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly is a locally-brewed blanche that far surpasses the Damm version.
I’m struggling to find things to say about the beer because there really isn’t anything remarkable about it. If this was a wine, and the beer and its presentation really do beg the comparison, I can’t see it having a place on a high-end wine list. There’s just not enough going on with it. The very idea that there is a beer that can pair with food, instead of a variety of beers with different flavours–bitter, sweet, sour, spicy–suggest a lack of seriousness put into conceiving the ways in which beer and food can work together. This beer and its conception seem completely ignorant of the brewing world, and it basically does a very mediocre job of attempting to reinvent the wheel. I suspect that a large reason why the beer exists, and is distributed as widely as it is (for example, you can purchase bottles in Quebec at the SAQ) is because El Bulli was hemorrhaging money–the New York Times reports here that annual losses of a half a million Euros were what led to the restaurant closing–and the beer doubtlessly generates a decent amount of income. That doesn’t mean that it’s groundbreaking or exceptional.