WITH AN ELEGANTLY extruded neck and Romanesque script on its golden label, a bottle of DeuS is unmistakable. Its contents are harder to pin down, though, at least based on the looks alone. Will it be some kind of wine? Champagne? …Beer? Some of both, as it turns out. DeuS is a Bière De Champagne, brewed from malt and seasoned with hops like all traditional beers, but then put through the full champagne treatment to develop that uniquely nimble effervescence.
Belgian ales are often hailed as the union of German beer and French wine technique, but few can claim to be as literally cross-cultural as DeuS. Initially brewed and conditioned in Belgium over a period of months, DeuS is then shipped to France for its final treatment. There it is stored in cool caves, upended and periodically rotated to collect the yeast in the neck, then frozen. This allows the yeast sediment, now a solid block, to force out the cork and be extracted, leaving most of the liquid behind. Combined, these two techniques are called remuage and dégorgement. Every 12th bottle of DeuS is then “sacrificed” to top off the preceding 11 before they are resealed. Altogether the process takes more than 12 months.
Once in the glass (be it the advised champagne flute or otherwise), DeuS reveals its beer provenance more obviously. Though highly effervescent and deep straw-colored, it has far too lasting and tightly-formed a head to look like traditional champagne. The aroma is striking, light in character but potent in concentration—vanilla, lavender, considerable residual sugars, some lingering yeast (despite its champagne treatment), a little custard, even, and a combination of citrus and baked grains that comes together like lemon shortbread. A narrower array of spices (ginger and clove foremost) play a supporting role. Hops are hard to articulate but blend subtly into the slightly spicy and floral notes of the aroma, being less prominent on the palate.
DeuS is recommended to be served like champagne from an ice bucket between 2-4 C (36-40 F), a range usually reserved for characterless lagers. But DeuS still sparkles with a remarkable robustness of aroma and flavors at such a chill, somewhat sweet, somewhat tart, refined yet bold. (Resist the temptation to let it warm, though, for it will become rather uncouth: the alcohol bites too much, the yeast becomes dusty and coarse, and the sweetness of the body turns cloying.) In addition to all the promise of its bouquet, the flavor adds golden raisins, some tannin, and a mineral zip towards the finish along with a slightly elevated sense of alcohol—no surprise given its 11.5% ABV. This vintage, at three years, had assuredly smoothed out in character compared to a fresher bottle, where carbonation would likely have been even more lively, the minerals more prickly, and perhaps hop flavors more pronounced. Attractive qualities, but the maturity of time affords a more luscious and rare sensation as well as sweet delicacy that is worth savoring.
As its painstaking production (and corresponding price tag of $30+ a bottle) should indicate, DeuS is a celebratory drink and no common dinner accompaniment. Food pairings lean towards aperitif hors d’oeuvres or dessert digestif—sorbet, actual lemon shortbread, pecans and brie, apricots and Greek yogurt, or possibly milder chorizos for the sake of contrast. But none is necessary, for DeuS just as well serves as a singular experience. Give it the space and contemplation it is due.
Served: 750 ml bottle in ice bucket (2011 vintage)