When many people think of champagne and beer, they might conjure up the image of Miller High Life, which used to call itself “the champagne of bottled beer.” But many American craft and Belgian brewers are increasingly putting their high end beers in champagne bottles, with cork, cage and foil, just like the sparkling wine. It was an easy shorthand to convey that what’s inside the bottle is as fine in its own way as any wine and the size and seal and make them ideal for bottle conditioned beers which continue to ferment in the bottle. The small Belgian brewery, Malheur, has taken this idea one step farther and released three beers that evoke champagne in their very names: Malheur Bière Brut, Dark Brut, and Cuvée Royale. All three use what owner Emanuel De Landtsheer calls “à la méthode originale.”
De Landtsheer’s family had been in brewing for generations and he recently took up the family calling when he opened the Malheur brewery in 1997. Michael Jackson has a delightful story about the brewery’s origins at his online Beer Hunter. When he first debuted the Brut line, he also used the phrase, the “Veuve-Clicquot of the beer world” in his marketing of the beers. Veuve-Clicquot sued to stop Malheur from using their name in the advertising, along with the more general terms, “method traditional”, “brut” and “reserve.” The lower court ruled for the champagne maker but on appeal to the European Court of Justice, it appears that they will rule for Malheur. Malheur voluntarily stopped using specific reference to Veuve-Clicquot for their beer, and the high court will likely rule that the other three terms do not imply a specific product or competitor and as such are legal to use for beer. The official ruling has not yet been handed down, but Reuters is reporting that this is now the expected outcome because their rulings generally follow the advocate general’s opinion.