Just a few weeks after debuting, Chicago's Moody Tongue Brewing is planning to release a beer made with rare black truffles that will cost as much as $120 per bottle. (Good news: It's a big bottle.)
Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner will be one of the most expensive beers ever sold in Chicago, and likely the priciest ever made in the city. Keeping with Moody Tongue's "culinary brewing" philosophy, the beer will be available primarily at beer-focused restaurants in 22-ounce bottles, but also in limited availability on draft and in some bottle shops.
Moody Tongue brewer and founder Jared Rouben said the beer should be available by the end of July.
Beers with price tags beyond $100 are rare, and often a combination of massive alcohol (Samuel Adams' Utopias approaches 30 percent) and gimmick (BrewDog's The End of History was packaged inside a dead squirrel).
Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner is wholly different: a 5 percent lager made with a rare, expensive Australian ingredient that is intended to be paired with food. Though availability will be limited - Moody Tongue made 40 barrels, the equivalent of 80 kegs - Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner will speak to whether the booming craft beer industry has matured enough for consumers to spend $120 on a bottle of beer with a fine meal.
Pat Brophy, craft beer and spirits buyer for the Binny's Beverage Depot chain, suspects there will be a market.
"Being in the restaurants is a smart way to start," Brophy said. "It allows people to share it, and make an event out of it with a meal. Something like that is a shared experience and conversation piece as much as it is a quenching beer."
Brophy said he would gladly stock the beer - likely much more cheaply than the restaurant price - but is less convinced it would sway one person shopping alone in a store aisle.
"With a black truffle pilsner, there's no basis for comparison," he said. "It's a big leap of faith."
Rouben said he made the beer at his new Pilsen brewery after The Truffle & Wine Co., of Manjimup, Western Australia, approached him about brewing with the rare ingredient. Rouben, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, developed a reputation in his previous job as Goose Island brewpubs brew master for the food-focused beers he created with some of the city's top chefs.
The cost of the beer, he said, "is a reflection of the cost of the ingredients."
"Anyone can do the math and see the cost of truffles," he said.
(According to The Truffle & Wine Co. website, black truffles cost about $1,050 per pound.)
Asked to describe the beer, Rouben offered a slow, deliberate answer: "I get truffle, I get lightly toasted pilsner malt and clean lager yeast. I get almost a little hint of citrus, like a little hint of Meyer lemon."
"It's complex," he said. "How do you describe a truffle? What's most important is that it changes. It's an exciting beer. It seems like you're a part of the evolution of the flavor and the aromatics."
Rouben hand-shaved the truffles (he wouldn't say how many pounds), which he added, "throughout the entire process at different points of temperature and for different periods of time." He said he deliberately brewed a clean, unobtrusive base beer to let the primary ingredient shine.
"Pilsners are one of the most difficult beers to create," he said. "There's no big hops, no bourbon, no big flavors covering up any mistakes. What you taste is very clean pilsner and truffles."
I tasted the beer last month and can attest to the fact that Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner is indeed complex, layered and, like a robust, higher-alcohol beer, unfolds with rich, savory layers. Drinking Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner too cold can mask its nuance.
Though it is one of Moody Tongue's first beers - Rouben is also in the process of releasing a Belgian golden ale with cold-pressed pawpaw and a wheat beer with crushed green coriander - he said he had no hesitation about debuting with such an expensive offering.
"I didn't really think of that," he said. "I've always been after the best ingredients that allow me to make the best beer. If I have the opportunity to use the best ingredients, I'll always jump at it."