Category Archives: French Beer

The first taste isn’t necessarily the sweetest…

A couple of weeks ago, I was passed on the way to work by a coachload of school kids, beating the windows and gesturing frantically as they did so. It looked like they were off on some kind of foreign trip, with the earnest teachers sitting up front, staring into the middle distance as they attempted to ignore the chaos in the seats behind. I used to love school trips – freedom from classrooms, plenty of scope to muck about, and (of course) a chance to find that holy grail of the early teenage years – alcohol.

Cast your mind back to the heady summer of 1991. The first Gulf War had just begun. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were fragmenting. Nintendo were about to launch a small grey box called a SNES into the world (Italian plumbers with a certain name would never have a joke-free phone call again). At the same time, a battered bus was arriving into Paris from Preston – many years before a direct service twinned those shimmering cities of light.

School trips to France were the ultimate in excitement to kids of our generation (unless you count text-based adventure games on the Commodore C64). Not because we all shared a love of the French language. We didn’t have a burning desire to study the history of this proud European nation, either. No, the main focus of crossing the Channel was that everyone knew in France they let children drink.

But how to go about it? Surrounded by eagle-eyed teachers, our opportunities were limited. At 15, there was no way we could saunter out of the one-star hotel and head to a local bar – we were curfewed within an inch of our human rights. And anyway, we all knew that the French only allowed restriction-free tweenage boozing with meals. So, mealtime it had to be. Rocking up at a local, cheap, steak n’ frites joint, we spied our prize – small bottles of Carlsberg. Time to strike!

Except, of course, we were far too scared. The first few up took their trays, asked for their ‘bifteck’ and shuffled along, past the chilled drinks cabinet, to the till. Shame filled the eyes as they returned to their seats. Eventually, it took a brave soul to linger in the right place, quickly swap a Fanta for a beer, and skim the tray to the till, a handful of Francs in the trembling hand. We all stared. The woman at the register, barely older than we were, took the money without comment.

We were in! As the teachers had all sat on their own table as far away from us as possible, we had a clear route to the treasure. I’ve not bought a crème caramel and four lagers since that day, but it was the ultimate goal. We quickly stashed those little green bottles in every free pocket of our shellsuits (thankfully, they had plenty), and clinked our way back to the hotel. Only there, in the safety of our adult-free rooms, did we realise the shocking truth about the taste of warm Carlsberg…

Bières Bourganel

‘French beer is unknown’ states Raymond Duyck – of Brasserie Duyck – in this article by Will Hawkes in the Independent. In Europe’s premier wine-first culture, beer has always – and, let’s face it, will always – play second fiddle to the noble grape. But there’s a long tradition of small-scale, artisan brewing in the country – exactly the kind of thing that, if it were cheese, or cider, the foodies would be all over. Drinkies such as us have been quietly enjoying French beer for a long time – particularly BeerCaster MrB, who for years has dragged his groaning car back across La Manche, laden with unusual and unheard-of gems.

In our Beer of the Year podcast at the beginning of January, we sampled four fascinating beers from a small Brasserie in the south of France – each one with a notable local ingredient added. To me, beer from across the Channel seems to delight in adding these unorthodox adjuncts – which give the final offering a rural, almost foraged-for quality. As a result, they seem individual and hand-crafted, and are therefore the complete opposite of mass-produced macro-beer. Forget Kronenbourg, and try Mor Braz La Bière Cidrèè – an apple fruit beer infused with Normandy seawater. Admittedly, the latter is significantly harder to come by than the former – but I’d take any Bière de Garde over Kronenbourg (unless you intended to slurp some Picon into it).

Back to our four bonus beers – at the end of the 1990’s Christian Bourganel decided to attempt to re-create the brewing scene in the south of France, by opening a facility in the Ardèche spa town of Vals les Bains. Describing his products as ‘speciality beers’, Christian states that they “…reflect the flavors of the Ardèche region and offer a wealth of tastes to be discovered!”. Alongside these more eccentric creations are the stock French styles of a blonde and an ambrée – but, of course, it’s the wacky flavours that make for better BeerCasts…

1. Bourganel Bière aux Marrons de l’Ardeche (5%)

The Mediterranean’s primary ‘marron’ beer is probably Pietra – the 6% Corsican offering that contains chestnut flour. Bourganel’s version features chestnut puree (plus vanilla), and is very different. A dry, wheaty start – reminiscent of Weetabix – is followed by a sweet, nutty edge on the finish. Ultimately disappointing, it could do with a soupçon more marron, and a soupçon less vanille.

What they say…
“A perfectly balanced fruity beer that plays on flavor’s originality as much as its undeniable character”

What we say…
“It’s not great. As a beer, I never want to drink it again” [Shovels]

2. Bourganel Bière aux Myrtilles de l’Ardeche (5%)

Many of the unusual ingredients added to French beers are fruit-based, and this one contains the enigmatic bilberry. Related to the attention-grabbing blueberry, the publicity-shy cousin is red inside (as opposed to green or white) and known by many different names all over the world – Blåbær, Whortleberry, Blaubeere, Fraughan. In France – Myrtilles. A vibrant dark red, the beer is lovely – long, dry bluebilberry flavour all the way.

What they say…
“The acidulated touch offers with success a rare freshness to this well mastered aromatization.”

What we say…
“I really like it, the blueberry fruit really comes across” [Grooben]

3. Bourganel Bière au Nougat (5%)

This was a new one for all of us. Although apparently an Italian invention, nougat (beaten egg whites and honey, studded with nuts) is classically French, having been perfected in and around Montélimar. In this beer, it was quite amazing – the instant, and unmistakable, aroma of nougat. Soft, sweet nutty honey followed on the flavour as well – all agreed that Mr. Bourganel’s beers certainly taste of their added ingredients.

What they say…
“We are talking about a talented flavoured beer, without any heaviness but deep in tastes!”

What we say…
“That’s the craziest thing ever – I really don’t like nuts” [MrB]

4. Bourganel Bière a la Verveine du Velay (5%)

Another new experience followed with the final beer – as it was riotously green. Although it looked uncomfortably like mouthwash, the adjunct here was Verveine – the famed liqueur from the region of Le-Puy-en-Velay. We’d not heard of it either, but oak-aged blend of 32 plants rocks up at 55%, and has apparently been blended with the unspecified Bourganel base beer. It’s slightly vegetal, a touch herbal – unusual, but drinkable.

What they say…
“A controlled masterpiece for Bourganel’s brewery and a thirst-quenching fine result…”

What we say…
“I’ve never seen a beer that colour in my life” [Grooben]

BeerCast #65 – Bières en vacances!

After our legislation-heavy 64th BeerCast, our intrepid podcasting heroes return with a slightly different, more carefree outing. MrB departed the island shores in July for his annual sojourn on the continent, and returned with a carload of French booze. Alongside the wine, Picon, and assorted liqueurs he also brought back plenty of artisian French beer – so we decamped to his Chateau in East Lothian and sampled a few. On today’s punctuation-heavy French BeerCast – La Johannique Blanche (5.0%), from the Brasserie des Râteliers; Cervoiserie Lancelot’s Bonnets Rouge (5.5%); Le Moulin de Saint-Martin Ambrée (6.5%), from the Brasserie of the same name; and finally the salt-water infused Mor Braz La Bière Cidrée (4.0%). On the panel today – Richarde, Grooben, and Monsieur B. Apologies for the sound quality, but stay tuned for the return of our annual feature – Can you Picon it?, after the end of the podcast…

1. La Johannique Blanche
Brasserie des Râteliers, Amilly, Loiret.
330ml glass bottle

Râteliers means ‘rack’ in French – for instance Râteliers a bicyclette [Bike rack]. There’s also the popular saying…‘Manger a tous les râteliers’ [make the most of what comes along]. Due south of Paris, the small town of Amilly is the location for the Brasserie des Râteliers. La Johannique is a Biere Blanche D’Orleans – their local Belgian-style wit. Clearly, if you’ve just read this paragraph you’ll realise we could find out very little about this beer.

What They Say
“This blanche highlights its origins from local ingredients, including grain grown in nearby Beauce and malted in Pithiviers, and honey from La Ferté St Aubin added for the secondary fermentation in the bottle.” [Beer Advocate reviewer BoitSansSoif]

What We Say
Richard – Bit of perfume, little bit of sweetness – very nice
MrB – It’s nice even though it doesn’t have much of a taste 7
Grooben – I wouldn’t have been able to pick out the honey 6

2. Bonnets Rouge
Cervoiserie Lancelot, Le Roc-Saint-André, Morbihan.
330ml glass bottle

You may not have heard of Morbihan – but it has an interesting secret. Of the 101 French departments, it’s the only one to not be named in French. Morbihan means ‘small sea’ in Breton – this area of north-west France has a proud heritage. Le Roc-Saint André (or Roz-Sant-Andrey to the locals) has a population of 861, but it also hosts a brewery – based in an abandoned gold mine, of all places. Cervoiserie Bernard Lancelot began in 1990, and are inspired by Celtic legends. Producing seven permanent, unfiltered, beers – Bonnets Rouge is named after the red hats worn by 17th Century Breton revolutionaries.

What They Say
“This beer at the slightly fruity flavor (brought by the elderberry), of malt, is embellished with a caramel note. It is also the elderberry which allows the beer to have its bright red color, a symbol of rebellion.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – Subtle and fruity, really good looking beer too 7
Richard – Nice and refreshing, nothing wrong with that at all 7
MrB – Slight sharpness to it, presumably from the elderberries

3. Le Moulin de Saint-Martin Ambrée
Brasseries Le Moulin de Saint-Martin, Saint Martin de Bossenay, Aube.
330ml glass bottle

If Le Roc-Saint André is small, then Saint Martin de Bossenay is positively pocket-sized. In 2003, a native Belgian father/son partnership opened a brasserie in the village of 385 souls. Part of the region of Champagne-Ardenne, it’s heavily into wine growing due to the chalky soil – and also produces a lot of barley. Named after the local windmills, the Brasserie produce three classic Belgian styles – a blonde, a brune, and an ambreé .

What They Say
“Bottle-fermented, a natural deposit of yeast formed there. Red beer with character a strong, color is both deep and intense. It is best eaten cold (6-8 °C). A more pronounced flavor than its cousin the white wheat, it remains a beer of thirst, but is also ideal to accompany dishes such as sauerkraut, grilled meat, chitterlings, endive gratin.” [Official Website][via Google translate]

What We Say
MrB – This is the best one so far 8
Richard – There’s a great malt component to this 8
Grooben – I’m a fan, it’s quite Belgian but doesn’t have the harsh Belgian-y-ness 8

4. La Bière Cidrée
Mor Braz, Theix, Morbihan.
330ml glass bottle

We end the podcast back in Brittany, in the town of Theix (or Teiz). A quarter of the schoolchildren here attend fully bilingual schools, learning local tradition as well as their regular syllabus. One export famed from this region is Breton cider – so we put to the test an apple beer, but one with a difference. Mor Braz are owned by a Morbihan couple, so proud of their locale that they actually add seawater extract to their beers – for a ‘surprising’ taste. Apple fruit beer with seawater? Oui, monsieur…

What They Say
“What is the mystery of Cider Beer? The originality and lightness of beer brewed from seawater extracts, the flavour of apple and the sweetness of sugary hints. This beer should be enjoyed cold, but not ice-cold.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – It’s a bit like a condiment flavour, very strange 6
Grooben – Not as salty as I thought. It’s kind of pointless 5
MrB – Salty cider? It smells of the sea. I like it, but I’m not sure why – maybe it’s because we’re Scottish, and appreciate salt 5

– (clockwise from top left) Richard, MrB, Grooben

BeerCast panel verdict
Le Moulin de Saint-Martin Ambrée 24/30
Brasserie des Râteliers La Johannique Blanche 20½/30
Cervoiserie Lancelot Bonnets Rouge 20½/30
Mor Braz La Bière Cidrée 16/30

  • Listen to the episode on Soundcloud here:

Please keep those comments and emails coming in, and check back in a couple of weeks for our next BeerCast – our fifth annual Christmas Special! Join the team as we get to grips with half a dozen festive ales, fit for the Christmas season. We promise to get the sound levels sorted out beforehand. Until then, enjoy your beer – and easy on the Picon.

Pelforth and multiply!

Hello beer lovers, 

It’s Andy of Andy & Jess here with my first ever blog post. 
You may remember me from such podcasts as ‘The man with the beery finger’ and ‘The beerman only rings twice’
I normally pull the levers behind the scenes to get the podcast up in iTunes, but recently me and Shovels went snowboarding in Chamonix and accidentally sampled a rather fine local beer called Pelforth and i thought it was high time i reviewed a beer in print.
As you may know from the podcast, i’m not actually much of a beer drinker, but the BeerCast has opened my mouth to some genuinely tasty and refreshing beers. I think i had assumed all beers tasted like Tennents poured in a coal mining town working mans club, but Pelforth really is a gem.
Shovels was the first to try it with a pizza on our first night but i snuck a cheeky sample when he wasn’t looking. Pelforth is one of those beers that looks dark and has a fairly high alcohol content, but actually tastes much lighter on the tongue and hides it’s alcohol very well.
It reminded me in a way of Meantime brewery’s Winter Time, a dark looking beer that’s actually very subtle.
We started with the Brun version i have described, but as you can see from the photo there is also a blonde version.
I don’t think i sampled that one, i think i’ll leave it to Shovels to expound on that flavour.
I was wondering why the label bears a picture of a Pelican but a quick squiz on Pelforth’s Wiki entry tells me that the brewery was originally called the pelican brewery but was renamed Pelforth after the second world war. It also mentions that the brewery is owned by Heineken now. 
The Oxford bottled beer database is fairly disparaging of Pelforth calling it ‘Too sweet and sterile to be classed as a great beer’ yet the comments left by fans of the beer seem to show that those who like it, really love it. It would also seem that it’s impossible to come by in Britain though.
(Any importers reading this, get on it!)