Appetites: Is craft beer the new wine?

Is beer the new wine?
Breweries are pushing into new markets with more complex, ambitious beers. Here, a selection of beers brewed at HammerHeart Brewing Company in Lino Lakes.
Tom Crann | MPR News file

Would you pay $10 for a bottle of beer? How about $20?

Brewers are thinking that certain drinkers will. The recent advent of ambitious, complex flavors is placing some beer-makers in the same class as wineries.

James Norton, founding editor of the Heavy Table, says that craft beer companies are trying to expand into new parts of the booze marketplace.

Some brands are canning their beer and pushing more accessible flavors like lagers. This year's City Pages "Best Of" voters even named so-called craft macros as their favorite beer trend.

However, brewers are also moving "up the ladder" into more ambitious flavors, Norton said.

These complex beers generally separate into two main categories: dark and heavy, or bright and sour.

For the former, think beers like Surly Darkness or Lift Bridge Commander. The latter include Fair State Bricoleur or Schell's Noble Star series.

Some of these beers are marketed differently, too. Many are available only in limited releases, and some have special packaging or left-field ingredients.

Take the beers above, for example. Darkness has been a different variety every year for the past decade. Fair State has release parties for its Bricoleur batches.

For anyone skeptical on a $15 beer, consider the technique, Norton said. It's more than just hops, barley and water.

He noted a Fulton beer called Culture Project Two. It was aged for nearly two years in oak wine barrels with four microorganisms. Fulton describes it as "complex yet gentle acidity and hints of oak, citrus, and wine."

Norton tried one recently.

"That description is absolutely fair," he said. "It was a lot more like a white wine necessarily than a beer in terms of its complexity."

Apparently, the hard sell was an accurate one.

To hear Norton talk beer with All Things Considered host Tom Crann, use the audio player above.

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