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Hophead: Estrella Damm Inedit--Damn, Do I Need It?

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Number 7 on the Hophead Beer of the Year list last month was Inedit, a new creation from Barcelona brewery Estrella Damm specifically created as an alternative to wine for food pairings.

What landed this brew on my year-end list wasn't the taste. In fact, I hadn't even tried it. Rather, I found it noteworthy for the sheer pretense and the amount of hoopla it received for its outlandish claim to be the first of its kind--hell, the name means "Never Been Done Before."

Last night I spotted a 750-ml wine-shaped bottle at Central Market priced at $9.99 and realized it was time to give it a shot.

"Inedit was created to pair with the most exquisite and challenging foods," reads an all-caps description in the glossy, full-color, gold-star-embossed booklet that hung around the bottleneck by a red cord. "Foods that contain: citrus and oils: i.e. salads, vinegar based sauces. Bitter notes: i.e. asparagus, artichokes, rugula. Oily textures: i.e. salmon, tuna, fatty cheese."

Considering that this "skillfully brewed blend of lager and wheat beer styles" took a committee of two chefs, two sommeliers and Estrella Damm's brewmasters to create, it seemed only fair to try it on its own terms. I decided to sample it alongside hummus and naan bread, derby sage and port salud leftovers from a Trinity Hall cheese board, and whatever I had for dinner that night. After wandering the deli area at Central Market for a while, I finally settled on a tray of salmon and tuna sushi rolls. Following are my notes from the experiment.

Keeping it chilled and using a white wine glass as recommended in the user's manual, the beer poured an attractive hazy golden-yellow with a foamy, lingering white cap. The nose was very subtle, particularly at such a cold temp, offering zesty citrus notes and the faintest impression of coriander. It was very dry with quick, sparkling effervescence and a clean finish that didn't stick around long. Overall, it was very light and subtle, a competent if not very bold example of a witbier. Granted, witbiers are not my favorite style, and a weak 4.8 percent ABV makes paying $10 for a bottle seem a bit silly. But this is a very refreshing, well-done version. On to the food pairings...

With Sushi
Paired with sushi rolls just barely dipped a splash of soy sauce, the beer's faint spicy coriander notes shine. The crisp finish and Champagne-like carbonation cleanse the palate as I alternate between salmon and tuna, but I can't say that either is gaining much from the beer, or vice-versa. Even the accompanying pickled cabbage is overpowering for this puny beer, let alone the sinus-clearing wasabi.

With Cheese
The red-marbled port salud is salty and assertively flavored, but it's not an overwhelming cheese. Yet it reduces the Inedit to club soda. The green-marbled derby sage, more bitter and less salty, is equally overpowering. The beer is a pleasant enough palate cleanser, but far too delicate to leave an impression of its own.

With Hummus and Naan
Surprisingly, this is by far the best pairing. The lemon juice in the spread enhances the lemon-peel character of the beer, and the soft naan bread enhanced the subtle malt flavors. This sudden reappearance of flavor may be due to the beer warming a few degrees by now, contrary to the instructions to keep the bottle chilled in an ice bucket after serving.

Ironically, "The beer specifically created to pair with food" tasted best before I tried to pair it with food. It got its ass handed to it by nearly every bite I tried--including forkfuls of Kraft Mac & Cheese and Totino's Party Pizzas swiped from my children's dinner plates (the kids aren't exactly sushi lovers). Sure, Inedit was OK with the sushi and with the hummus, but even as I ate I was thinking of beers that would have matched up better. And those brews not only would have added something to the meal rather than fading to the background, they would have done so without such an unearned attitude of superiority.

For all its outlandish marketing, Inedit, the pinky-extended choice of wine snobs slumming in the beer world, may be a decent witbier. But if it takes namby-pamby, traitorous, self-hating beers to win oenophiles over, I'd just as soon they keep drinking their wine.

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