Food & Drink

Prince Charles is an ale natural

Anyone who has paid twice the price for cardboard-tasting organic vegetables that may have been stuck on a truck for a week, then cold-warehoused for a month, knows that organic isn't always the best deal.

Generally, organic beers have been a disappointment, perhaps because of the limited choice of ingredients.

But two recent entries to the local market seem exceptions to the rule: a British import called Duchy Originals Organic Ale and Colorado's New Belgium Mothership Wit.

The English ale is crafted at Wychwood Brewery, Oxfordshire, for the Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation.

According to British beer authority Roger Protz, the ale is made with Plumage Archer malted barley, which disappeared in the 1950s, only to be rediscovered in the nick of time. It seems a Cambridge seed merchant had kept samples tucked away, and they were successfully sown and harvested at Prince Charles' Home Farm at Highgrove and other farms nearby.

Duchy Originals is now the best-selling organic beer brand in Britain, Protz reports.

Knowing none of the above, I looked skeptically at the brown bottle swathed in a very upmarket gilded label, approaching it with less-than-great expectations but with opener poised. It poured a warm, inviting red copper color; the aromas were rich and sweet and the flavors surprisingly complex, sweetish but not cloying, with notes of toffee, citrus and biscuits.

Charles has marketed a surprisingly well-crafted ale. Maybe he has missed his calling all these years. Imagine the possibilities if he had been born a Coors, a Busch or a Pabst.

From far less aristocratic environs _ Fort Collins, Colo. _ comes a Belgian-style white beer _ "wit" beer, a wheat beer enlivened with orange peel and coriander _ from the makers of Fat Tire. It looks like lemonade, hazy and pale yellow and quite inviting.

One of the few organic beers this column has recommended in the past is North Coast's Old Plowshare Stout from Fort Bragg, Calif. With a surprisingly lightish mouth feel, Plowshare tastes midway between an Irish stout and its sibling porter. Light for a stout, it makes an easy-drinking meal accompaniment or session beer. Brewed for Whole Foods, it delivers roasted-coffee and molasses flavors with a pleasant bitter finish.