By John Scholl
I paid $120.00 for a 22 oz. bottle of beer. Actually with tax, it was $131.17, which makes this the most I’ve ever spent on any kind of beverage. Getting a bottle of Moody Tongue’s Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner was no easy task either. You can’t just walk into the supermarket and get this particular bottle of high-end beer. First I had to sign up for a lottery. Then, after having my name chosen, I still had to buy it online and pick it up during a window of specific dates.
Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner, owing to its unique ingredients and noteworthy price, received more than the usual pre-release press, which intrigued me enough to sign up for a bottle. It wasn’t until my name was actually chosen that I started to harbor some second thoughts.
I was told – frequently – that no beer is worth $120. But … why isn’t any beer worth $120?
Connoisseurs pay well over $100 for whiskey without breaking a sweat. Hell, you can go to The Aviary in Chicago and grab a whiskey that will set you back $325 per ounce. That’s $325 for shot of fermented corn. I do get that you can open a bottle of whiskey and keep it for years, but once you open a bottle of beer, it needs to be consumed within a few hours. So maybe whiskey is a bad example. How about Champagne or wine? Just a few weeks ago, $130 bottles of Dom Perignon Champagne were flying off the shelves to help boozehounds celebrate the New Year. There were no press writeups, no lotteries, and people hardly batted an eye at the price. Whiskey, wine, and Champagne all have cheap, low-quality versions, just as they have high-dollar version or the discerning drinker. But in comparison, high-end beer prices almost always fall on the lower end of the cost spectrum.
Jared Rouben, brewmaster for Moody Tongue, explained to me why he decided to make his mark with a truffle pilsner. His goal, he said, is to “highlight ingredients through culinary techniques which help build layers of flavors and aromatics.”
He went on to explain “I did not brew this beer with a particular dish in mind – my goal was to pay homage to the ingredient and showcase its complex layers of flavors and aromatics through beer. That said, this certainly presents an incredible opportunity to pair. Think seared scallops, roasted beef tenderloin, grilled lamb chops, homemade pasta with brown butter. I personally would pick up a delicious ribeye, marinate it with just olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper, and throw it on the grill until it’s just about medium rare.”
Jared believes that there is a market for high-end beer at this price point. “I think there is more than enough room for beer, wine, and whiskey together,” he said. “The goal is to create the perfect pairings for our guests, and at the end of the day the more available options we have, the more likely we are to help curate that experience.”
We brought together an experienced tasting panel to try the beer. We didn’t pair any food with the beer (sorry Jared), but we did focus solely on the answer to everyone’s most important question: Is the beer any good?
Adam Palmer – bearded Texan, cream liqueur digital marketer
Alana Scholl – Craft brewery worker, flannel wearer, reluctant ManBQue fan
Emily Carruthers – black truffle lover, puts up with John Carruthers
John Carruthers – Food scientist, author, drinker of everything
We initially thought was this might be a beer that mimics that recognizable truffle oil-type flavor. We quickly learned that wasn’t the case. Instead, it had us talking about retronasal tasting and earthiness. The beer aroma presents sweet cider with the truffle earthiness at the backend. Everyone agreed that the base alone may be one of the best small brewery pilsners in Chicago. The truffle doesn’t come through as the perfumey richness of an oil or extract. It’s not a showy flavor, but something closer to the natural side of the tuber. The delicate lightness of the base highlights the subtle flavors of black truffle exquisitely.
In food and beer, we’re conditioned to think that anything marketed to a specific flavor is going to knock you over the head with BOLD FLAVORS. But unlike a lot of gimmicky beers, Truffle Pilsner shows restraint in flavor and makes you slow down to appreciate the complexity. A subtle truffle aftertaste builds steadily, and many tasters found themselves exhaling slower to enhance the beers flavors. John Carruthers explained that “the truffle flavor stays with you. Like a lover’s voice on a mountainside,” whatever that means.
Each person who partook in the tasting admitted participating for both the beer itself and the experience of tasting a $120 bottle. The overall consensus was Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner is worth the price, and has a place along other $100+ beverages similarly occupied by gift and special occasion purchases.
Suggested food pairings from our tasters included risotto, steak, bruschetta with prosciutto, and pork loin.
Spending high dollars for a bottle makes you pay attention what you’re drinking. This beer makes you slow down and appreciate the craft like you would a good scotch or wine. I look forward to seeing more breweries take an upscale ingredient approach to create thoughtful releases without artifice.