I’m off to Chambar tomorrow to celebrate Sharon’s birthday, and my reservation reminder email got me salivating like some Russian scientist’s pet. Sure, the food is amazing, and they do make a foie gras terrine so decadent that it likely would have been outlawed in the sexually repressed 1950s. However, the thing that really got me going was the beer I had there last time. Raise your hand if you’re surprised in any way by this.
The last time we were there, I enjoyed an extreme beer rarity: Westvleteren 12. This seldom-seen trappist is hailed by many as the “best beer in the world.” While I might not put it on such a lofty pedestal, it definitely is one of the better beers to ever pass my lips, and not to fluff my own pillow, but that means it’s pretty damned good.
I enjoyed this beer immensely for a number of reasons. First, it was served at the right temperature in an appropriate glass. Second, the atmosphere of Chambar is nigh perfect for a post dinner sipper of a big ale. Third, and I cannot stress this one enough, trying the Westy at Chambar meant not having to dip into my own small stash to monitor how my investment was progressing.
With such a memorable experience behind me, it’s fairly natural to remark about how great a time was had to friends, relatives, passers-by, and pretty much anyone who will listen. Imagine my shock when, instead of the intended jealously and interest, my story generated disapproval, centered solely around the question of price. I paid (IIRC) $27 for my 33cl bottle of Westvleteren 12–just over twice the ~$13 cost at retail, and therefore around the low-end of restaurant booze mark-ups. The reaction?
“How much? For beer!? *A* beer? I wouldn’t have paid that. You got ripped off.” Sure, some folk got it, and immediately went to Chambar for their own bottle, but others–even some craft beer fans–just couldn’t get over paying that much for a beer. Some even suggested that I could have saved money and drank beforehand. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t frequently pre-game fine dining.
Think about this one for a second: $27 for 33cl is ~$82 for a litre, or ~$61 for 75cl. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Here’s Chambar’s wine list. The price per bottle ranges from $38 (Bodegas Navarro Lopez ‘ROJO’ ’11 Tempranillo) to $525 (Chateau Palmer ’07 Margaux). $61 doesn’t even get you into the decent reds.
Drop $525 on a bottle of wine at a restaurant and people will think “wow, that must have been a great wine!” Drop $60 on a bottle of beer, and folk will think “what a rip-off.” The wine > beer mentality has been burnt into our sub-conscious by decades of cheap products from Big Beer and the advertising to back that up. It’s okay for wine to be expensive, but alas beer is not afforded such a luxury, no matter the quality.
Which would you prefer? The “best beer in the world,” or an okay Merlot from Washington State? (Charles Smith ‘The Velvet Devil’ $59). I know which one I’d go for, and I’d do it again in a second if Chambar hadn’t sold out already. While annoying for me, that fact is proof that some progress has been made, but until I can enjoy a high-end beer at a quality restaurant without derisive comment about what is frankly a low markup, we’re not quite done here.