Thirst for the boutique: Beer lovers will often spend up large on an artisan offering. Photo: Christopher Pearce
At almost $100 for a 750ml bottle, the average beer drinker might find this brew a bit hard to swallow.
Filtering out into the market this week is the 2014 release of Australia's most expensive home-grown beer, the Crown Ambassador.
Described by makers Carlton United Breweries as a beer for "special occasions", it can be cellared for up to 10 years and is recommended to be sipped in a red wine glass. Crown's website spruiks its "rich, caramelised malty flavour, balanced by bitter-sweet hop characters, finishing with a smooth, full-bodied mouth feel." It's suited, in much the same way as any beer, to grilled and barbecued meats as well as cheeses. But while the beer has found its way into a number of fine-dining restaurants, it has not always been to everyone's taste.
A $100 a bottle: The Crown Ambassador 2014. Photo: Supplied
Judy McMahon, owner of Catalina at Rose Bay, revealed she stocked – then withdrew – the 2010 vintage which had been listed on the menu for $125. "We gave it a try and while it was extremely nice, it didn't capture people's imaginations," she said, adding: "We're talking the equivalent price of a fine bottle of champagne. We found that people preferred to stick with that."
While many beer lovers might baulk at spending close to $100 on a bottle of ale, they have no such reservations about artisan brews. Customers' thirst for boutique beers priced well beyond the cost of an average schooner shows no signs of abating, giving a boost to small breweries at the expense of the bigger-name brands.
The Local Taphouse, in Darlinghurst, showcases more than 20 locally-brewed beers on tap, plus a further 20 bottled brews from around the world – including "special interest" ales that range from $7 to $60 each.
The pub's co-founder Steve Jeffares said: "The average person might baulk at the prices of some of the more exotic and rare international beers, but for a really keen, educated beer fan, $20, $30, even $40 would be reasonable."
He added: "A lot of these beers are not to be skolled or quaffed. They come in bigger bottles, are higher in alcohol and are, therefore, to be savoured and shared in a similar way to a good bottle of wine. And why should wine and beer be any different?"
Next week, Murray's Craft Brewing Company releases the latest batch of its Anniversary Ale. At $29 per 640ml bottle, it is the most expensive of the 55 beers so far brewed by the company and recommended to be enjoyed with blue cheese. With the annual release strictly limited to a thousand bottles, the brewery's sales manager, Shane Cleary, said: "It is gone before we've even got it."
He said with three or four successful flagship beers now under its belt, the Port Stephens-based brewery was able to branch out and fund "bigger beers".
"We are releasing a speciality beer every month…and they are the ones that truly excite us…those bigger beers. In turn, people are really starting to care about the brand."
At the Local Taphouse on Thursday, the bar was heaving with beer enthusiasts ordering from a specially curated list that features everything from Czech and German pilsners and India pales ales through to pepper steak porters, smoked dark ales, sweet stouts, fruit beers and ciders. Mr Jeffares said mainstream beer drinkers might not realise that many of the big beers flow from "tiny" businesses which, as "artisans", combine very exotic, high-quality ingredients with a range of unusual and progressive brewing processes. The Sun-Herald offered two regular beer drinkers a high-end beer from the Taphouse list, a 750ml bottle of Cuvee De Ranke which costs $40. The brew, from Belgium, is a sour pale Lambic, which neither customer had previously tried.
Ben Davies, 39, said: "I would certainly think twice about drinking a beer that costs $40. But having tasted that, shared it with a good friend and enjoyed it the way it is supposed to be enjoyed…I would definitely approach it in the future in the same way I would a nice bottle of red wine."
Simon Gaudry, 41, said: "It's an unfamiliar way of drinking a beer but slowly sharing and discussing such a unique tasting brew has been a very pleasant experience. It's not something you're ever likely to do with a VB."