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Australia brewer launches $79 bottle of beer

Australia’s largest brewer has launched a super premium lager with a price tag you’d expect to find on a bottle of wine, saying it wants to take the nation’s love of a cold beer to a new level.

Carlton & United Breweries’ Crown Ambassador Reserve is on sale at A$60 Australian (S$79) a bottle, about 10 times the price of a regular 750ml ’longneck’ brew.

Only 5,000 bottles have been produced - each individually numbered, sealed with wax and sold in a presentation box.

Carlton’s master brewer John Cozens said the beer could be cellared for up to 10 years because it has an alcohol level of 9.2 per cent, almost twice that of regular beer.

Mr Cozens, a genial Yorkshireman who has been brewing for almost 40 years, said he hoped that over time the Crown Ambassador beer would gain the same reputation for quality that Australia’s Grange Hermitage has in the wine world.

’There’s no reason why finely-crafted beer made with high-quality ingredients should not cost as much as wine,’ he said.

’We are moving into wine territory with this beer. Sure, it’s A$60 a bottle but I think that’s cheap,’ Mr Cozens said.

He said the pricey brew would most likely be bought as a gift and might be served in top-end restaurants.

’I think people will keep it for a special occasion and in that way it’s a bit like Grange - you wonder how much of it will ever be drunk, when will people think an occasion is special enough to open it,’ he said.

He said the Ambassador was an extension of Carlton’s premium Crown lager brand, which dominates the top end of the Australian beer market but is under challenge from imports like Heineken, Carlsberg and Stella Artois.

’Crown’s got quite a story to it,’ he said. ’It was first brewed in 1919 for Australia’s diplomatic corps and only went on sale to the general public in 1954, when the queen came out to Australia after her coronation,’ he said.

’We were looking to defend Crown’s space as a premium beer and so thought we’d do something special with the Ambassador to take it to the next level.’

The Crown Ambassador Reserve is a dark copper colour, rather than the straw colour of most lagers, and Mr Cozens said it had a distinctive flavour thanks to the use of specially-grown galaxy hops.

’You would certainly be aware of a much deeper flavour,’ he said.

’This one has a big aroma, the galaxy hops give it this magnificent fruit salad-type of aroma that helps to lighten what would otherwise be quite a heavy brew.

’Over time that will mellow and you’ll lose some of those top notes as the malt asserts itself - it will change in flavour as it ages.’

Ms Cozens even has some tasting tips for beer lovers willing to meet Ambassador’s hefty price tag.

’Swirl the bottle gently, get the sediment re-suspended then pour the whole lot out. Serve it in a big glass so you can get your nose right in and pick up the aromas,’ he said.

Ms Cozens develops about 40 types of beer annually, only two or three of which ever reach the market.

He said working on Ambassador was a dream assignment, allowing him to use traditional techniques not used in modern, industrial-scale brewing.

’Very rarely do we get the freedom to work on something like this,’ he said.

’Usually we’re working in the mainstream beer categories, which is fine for your bread and butter, but we could use techniques here that we wouldn’t normally be able to do.’

These included personally picking the hops from a farm in rural Victoria and overseeing every stage of the brewing process.

However, for all the love he’s poured into the beer, Mr Cozens said he had just one regret: he doesn’t have one at home waiting for a special occasion.

’No one’s bought me one yet,’ he said.

The Straits Times - 14 July 2008
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