Riddle, disgorge, cork and cage
There’s a beer for every occasion—a Belgian Quad at Christmas, a Saison for a summer party—but what about for a wedding toast? You could splurge on a Bière de Champagne, a champagne-style beer that’s dry, bright, bubbly, and rarely brewed outside of Belgium, but it would set you back at least $35 a bottle and can be hard to find on shelves.
Or you could wait until July 13, when new Lowell-based nanobrewery Enlightenment Ales will be selling Enlightenment Brut,
the first regularly produced Bière de Champagne in the United States.
It all started, strangely enough, with Obama. Enlightenment founder Ben Howe, 27, was planning a party—Baracktoberfest—ahead of the Presidential election in 2008, and wanted to brew a Bière de Champagne for the party.
He was working as a brewer at the Cambridge Brewing Company at the time, and so CBC brewmaster Will Meyers came over to help: “We had a bunch of liquid nitrogen, we blew up a couple of bottles, learned a few lessons,” as Howe puts it.
Then after attending the Craft Brewers Conference in Boston in 2009, he met a recently married brewer who lamented how he wanted to have a traditional Bière de Champagne at his wedding, but could only afford to share a bottle with his wife while everyone else had champagne.
There’s a reason not many breweries are specializing in Bière de Champagne—it’s difficult to master and brew consistently, and takes a long time to produce (three months from start to finish). But, Howe realized, there is a market for it.
“If the Belgians can do it—I see Will [Meyers at CBC] making incredible Belgian beers that are just as good as the Belgians, and Allagash doing it—I can do it too. This should be something that normal people can afford.”
In stores, the beer will sell for about $16 or $17, and in bars anywhere from $18-$30.
The brewing process involves brewing a Belgian-style bottle conditioned beer and then finishing it like a champagne: riddling, disgorging, corking, and caging.
“When you’re making Bière de Champagne, you’re making champagne,”
“But then instead of just leaving it to settle out, you take each bottle and put it in these big racks and you turn it 90 degrees every day for a month, so all of the yeast settles down in the neck.”
After a month, he freezes the bottle necks to prepare it for the disgorgement process, where in one swift motion he removes the crown, the frozen yeast sediment goes flying, and if all goes well, without losing much of the beer. Then he’ll seal it with a cork.
The process takes three months, which means on his one-and-a-half-barrel system, he could brew 1,440 bottles a month, at maximum capacity (“and die of exhaustion”). He does brew other beer, including a Saison and a Belgian-style dark strong ale, and is playing around with other side projects, like developing as an authentic of a Lambic as possible with two other CBC brewers.
Howe has had his fair share of set backs and bureaucratic headaches while opening the brewery, including an eight-month, several thousand-dollar battle to have his burners approved by the Board State of Plumbers and Gas Fitters—which was only resolved when he wrote to three state senators and five state representatives.
And now on the verge of opening, he’s still shaking off new-nanobrewery nerves.
“This whole enterprise is tremendously exciting and rewarding, and also absolutely, completely terrifying.” But when Enlightenment does succeed—he will at least have a beer to toast with.
45 MEADOWCRAFT ST.