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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And now we'll raise a few more glasses.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

That's right. This is actually a rare moment on the program when we actually get to drink beer.

NORRIS: Well, not the fizzy beverages advertised during so many sporting events, but beer with some serious pretentions.

SIEGEL: That's right. Liquor store shelves are now full of beers that come with the kind of price tag usually associated with a decent bottle of champagne or single-malt whiskey, beer that is clearly not intended to be downed by the six-pack.

NORRIS: We asked Michael Jackson to take us on a tour of some of these recent vintages. He's the author of "Ultimate Beer" and the "Great Beer Guide." Mr. Jackson joins us from London, where it's not hard to find a good brew.

Michael, thanks for being with us.

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Author, "Ultimate Beer" and "Great Beer Guide"): It's a pleasure. If anybody asks me for a drink of beer on a Friday, I'm sure there.

SIEGEL: I should say that for those who are interested, our tasting menu is at npr.org.

And Mr. Jackson, where should we begin?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, why don't we start with something really unusual, I mean, maybe even a little bit shocking, a really, really good raspberry beer, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus with a rather cheeky label, too?

NORRIS: Cheeky is one word for it.

SIEGEL: A euphemism for nearly pornographic, I think, is what you're getting at.

Mr. JACKSON: It's sexy, but beer is sexy, you know? Have a nose of this one.

(Soundbite of pouring beer)

Mr. JACKSON: A little bit of cherry in there, too, a little bit of vanilla.

SIEGEL: And that is the fruitiest beer. There are lemon juices that aren't as fruity as that beer, Mr. Jackson.

Mr. JACKSON: Well, it's got real fruit in it, and it's been on the fruit for perhaps six months or a year.

SIEGEL: And how expensive is that beer?

Mr. JACKSON: I have no idea. I didn't know you could pay for beer. I haven't paid for beer for over two years.

SIEGEL: I'm beginning to understand your career choice.

Mr. JACKSON: But we want to have a Czech beer, as well, you know? I mean, the Czeches gave us the beers of Plzen and the beers of Budejovice. This is going to be the control sample. This is going to be the nearest thing you're going to taste to a regular beer-beer as people sometimes call them.

SIEGEL: OK.

NORRIS: And this actually comes in a bottle that is a bit more familiar to American beer drinkers.

Mr. JACKSON: This beer is actually brewed in the Czech town of Budejovice, which about 120 years ago, gave an idea to a gentleman in St. Louis, Missouri, about what you might call a beer.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

SIEGEL: It's a delicious dry beer.

NORRIS: Now we're drinking this. It's not exactly frosty. This is close to room temperature.

Mr. JACKSON: Yes. If you were served this in the Czech Republic, it would be chilled. It wouldn't be chilled, you know, to the point of making you feel you've swallowed a brick of ice, which can be the case sometimes in the US, particularly in the South. I think that two of the saddest phrases I know in the English language are `coldest beer in town,' and `last beer before dry county.'

SIEGEL: Well, the Czech beer is a treat. We also have an American beer represented here.

Mr. JACKSON: We have more than one. But we have a great American beer, the American beer that really represented a moment where the tide turned in the United States and people started moving away from bland beers towards beers with some real taste. This is Anchor Steam from San Francisco and the Anchor Steam beer brewery.

(Soundbite of bottle opening)

NORRIS: Michael, we're not drinking these out of pilsners, we're drinking them out of--almost like goblets. And as you hold this to your face and it gets close to your nose, it's really aromatic. It sort of fills up your senses.

Mr. JACKSON: That's the whole idea. You need a glass that will deliver the aroma to you. Now people think that's a bit sort of, you know, lift your pinkie when you start talking about aromas and bouquets in beer. But beer lovers like to be able to really nose the beer.

NORRIS: I'm not an expert, but I know what I like. And this one's quite good.

SIEGEL: Anchor Steam. And Anchor Steam is about nine bucks for a six-pack, so we're not talking about an outrageously expensive beer here by any means.

Mr. JACKSON: But it was the first beer to really dare to charge a little bit more, and, you know, I think that was a great service to the brewing industry.

SIEGEL: Well, we have a Belgian beer here that comes in what appears to be a champagne bottle and with a name that sounds almost fitting for a champagne: Deus Brut de Flandres.

(Soundbite of cork popping)

Mr. JACKSON: Yes. Deus--I think you might have just heard the cork pop...

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JACKSON: ...here in London as I taste along with you. And this is--it's brewed in...

SIEGEL: Our cup is running over right now on this end.

NORRIS: Yes.

Mr. JACKSON: Yes. It's pretty lively, isn't it? Maybe we should have just won a sporting event or something, and we could spray it all over each other. But we're not going to be as silly as that, are we? I hate seeing people waste good champagne or good beer.

SIEGEL: This is a very smooth...

Mr. JACKSON: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...very, very smooth glass of beer. And not a cheap one either, I might add. It's 25 bucks a bottle, this Deus.

Mr. JACKSON: It's also very deceptive because it's 11 1/2 percent alcohol, which you wouldn't really believe.

NORRIS: Oh, I'll be putting this down.

Mr. JACKSON: I feel we should be celebrating something, so mazel tov, huh?

SIEGEL: How could a guide to the quality of a beer is its price? Are there terribly overpriced beers all over American stores nowadays?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, if a beer tastes like a regular beer and it's very highly priced, it's overpriced. But I think there's actually much more beer that's probably underpriced. It's not--I don't get a lot of popularity points with the consumer for saying this, but I think a lot of beers are too cheap. And yes, there is some overpriced beer, but there's a lot more underpriced beer.

SIEGEL: I don't know if we've saved the best for last, but we have certainly saved the most expensive for last. This is a beer that comes in a copper bottle. It's in the shape of a brew kettle. It's called Samuel Adams Utopias. And we asked Jim Koch, the brewer and founder of Sam Adams, to describe this beer.

Mr. JIM KOCH (Brewer and Founder, Sam Adams): It weighs in at a mere 50, 51 proof, which is about 25 percent alcohol, and it has the flavors of a fine sherry, and old cognac, a vintage port. So it takes beer to a level of flavor that beer has never been before.

SIEGEL: And possibly to a level of expense. This is a hundred-dollar bottle of beer that our man is opening up as I speak. What should we expect, Michael Jackson?

Mr. JACKSON: It does have a very sherrylike taste, and this is a beer that's taken about two years maturation. It's made with a champagne yeast. It's aged in Jack Daniel's whisky casks. And as I'm talking about it, I'm feeling as mad as hell, because we don't have any.

SIEGEL: On your end.

Mr. JACKSON: We can't get it in Britain.

SIEGEL: It tastes like sweet sherry.

Mr. JACKSON: Yeah, it will do it, like sherry, like a liqueur, a real after-dinner drink.

SIEGEL: It's very good.

Mr. JACKSON: OK.

SIEGEL: Well, Michael Jackson, thank you very much for the beer education. And cheers to you.

Mr. JACKSON: Well, you, too. It's time for me to go out for a beer now.

NORRIS: Thanks, Michael.

Mr. JACKSON: You're welcome.

NORRIS: Michael Jackson is the author of "Ultimate Beer" and the "Great Beer Guide." He spoke to us from London.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Vocalists: (Singing unison) In Heaven, there is no beer. That's why we drink it here. And when we're gone from here, all our friends would be drinking all our beer.

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