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Monday, June 01, 2009

Estrella Damm Inedit

A couple weeks back I got a strange press release, and toward the issuing brewery--Barcelona's Estrella Damm--I directed some fairly tart criticism. Estrella Damm has been making a standard light lager for decades, but now it apparently wants to enter the craft world. The gambit? Inedit, "a beer specifically created to accompany food." This is roughly like announcing you intend to make bread that comes pre-sliced. Alert the media! To accomplish this feat, they brought in a raft of chefs, and the poor brewer went through 400 iterations of the beer before the final version.

But okay, enough of the taunting. I told the press-release-sender that I would happily try the beer and review it, and so she obliged by sending me a bottle. My lovely and talented wife helped out in the experiment by making a delicious meal, an appropriate trial for a beer the brewery says
"... is a unique coupage of barley malt and wheat with spices to provide an intense and complex aroma. It aims to complement food once thought to be a challenge in terms of culinary pairings, including salads, vinegar-based sauces, bitter notes such as asparagus and artichokes, fatty and oily fish, and citrus."
(The less we ponder the "once thought difficult" phrase, the easier this review becomes. So moving briskly along....)

Sally's meal was fairly designed for this beer: tandoori chicken, made on the grill, along with grilled asparagus, brushed with a vinegar sauce. On the side, a string bean salad with chopped hazelnuts. Good stuff.

The beer, it turns out, is a wit. A pretty traditional one, too--coriander, orange peel, wheat malt. The one innovation is licorice. (My guess is probably a strait addition of the root rather than a derivative; there's a nice, earthy quality to it.) As wits go, it's gentle and subtle. The spicing is soft and floral, the yeast benign and without much character. I give it pretty high marks for drinkability, if not originality.

It goes well with food--as of course many Belgian ales do and have done for centuries. It was a nice pairing with both the tangy tandoori chicken, which it complemented, and the bitter/sour asparagus, which it contrasted. The salad--eh, it was fine. But hey, two out of three's good.

Ultimately, this is a slight beer with a massive ad campaign. A bit of a shame, too. Anyone in town who shells out $10 for this supposedly transcendent beer will almost certainly feel let down. On the other hand, if I served you a glass--with or without food--you'd probably find it quite nice. It's even worth the ten bucks. It will not, however, revolutionize gastronomy.

There may ultimately be an up-side to this incident, however. I really should be writing more about food and beer pairings. Maybe this will serve as inspiration.


  1. Sounds like a beer worth trying with that licorice note. I've been fascinated with the idea of a slight licorice hint to beer, but outside winter seasonals it's hard to find a brewery willing to experiment with it.

    A beer you should review this Saturday is the new John-John Dead Guy

  2. Sounds like you got a better bottle than I did. Or maybe it was the quality/price ratio that made me go "meh."

  3. I've posted this elsewhere, but it appears Ferran Adrià (who's lent his name and cred to this beer), famous chef-owner of El Bulli in Spain, has jumped the shark with this one. Also, it's not a 100% typical witbier - it's actually a blend of a wit and a lager. Also, Deus, from Brouwerij Bosteels in Belgium, uses a bit of anise in its spice mix, so it's not that new, and that's without knowing if Dany Prignon has dumped some anise/licorice into one of his Fantomes at some point.

  4. DGS--

    It's true, different witbier recipes sport a bunch of different spicing. Coriander and bitter orange peel are the standards--added flavors are common. That's actually another reason to scratch your head on this beer. The promo material talks about how hard Estrella worked to come up with a solution to this centuries' old dilemma ... and then they brew a common style.


    Lager yeast, eh? Wouldn't surprise me--there's very little yeast character here.