Monday, July 25, 2011

An Underground Beer Culture Surviving in Wine Country Part 1

I was a bit skeptical at first and for good reason. Sure, in northern France you can find some great breweries, including the ones that are credited with reviving the Bière de Garde and the Bière de Mars styles, but in southern France, the heart of wine country, really?  At one point the master blender at the estate we were at (Château des Karantes) had remarked to us that the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France (where we were) produces more wine in one year than all of Australia combined.  And I was supposed to find good beer here?  I went in a skeptic, but I came away a believer.

My first experience was at a small cafe in Gruissan.  There were signs in the window tempting: 'Découvrez nos bières artisanales.'  It was a hot day and I was quite parched, so it was my duty as an inquisitive brewer to partake in a nice cool, frosty beverage

La Néou is an aromatic, 5% ABV white beer brewed with spices and water from the Pyrenee mountains range.  It was a light, sweet wheat beer, and it had light honey notes to it. (Honey is one of things that this region of the world prides itself on, so it makes sense that they would use it in their beer.)  There was the slightest diacetyl (butterscotch) flavor to the beer, but it wasn't off putting at all.  It actually worked very well with the beer.  These pleasant flavors lingered for a while and it was a perfect way to quench my thirst on the Mediterranean coast.

My next sampling wasn't a beer, but a cider, and being it is my goal to familiarize myself across the lines of the BJCP guidelines, I thought it would be another great learning experience.


I am not an expert in ciders by any means, so I do not know if it is actually one of the high quality ciders on the market, but I do have to say it was one of the best I've ever tasted.  It was Loïc Raison's Cirdre Breton Brut.  At 4.5% ABV it is relatively low alcohol compared to most that I have drank in the past, but it's flavors were unmatched.  Upon the first sip, you're hit with a light, dry crisp flavor that has just a touch of sweetness and a hint of honey.  The more and more I drank, the more the tannin flavors of the skin became present and gave the illusion that you were biting into an apple.  It was a wonderful thing to have happen.  Flavors like this are going to be hard to match when I start making ciders, and I can only hope to achieve results close to this.

This one completely ripped off Delirium Tremens (only a pig instead of an elephant), so how could it be bad?  The big pink pig was calling my name and I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.  Had I been able to speak and read French a bit better, I may have steered clear (Rince Cochon translates to Pig Rinse...ugh...).


Although this beer is very crisp and refreshing like a lager, it is actually an ale that has a very soft nose, similar to a pilsner, and just slightly fruity, like an English ale.  The flavor and after taste were exactly the same, the slightest maltiness along with a hoppy/fruity after taste.  Though this beer wasn't necessarily what I was looking for, it did have a nice sweetness and crispness to it that has its own time and place, and a BBQ in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea was just that (though I do not think that is what the brewers had in mind since it is from Belgium).

Look out for part two of this series later this week... 

Primary: German Pilsner, Ginger Ale
Secondary: Lite American Lager
Carbonating: Honey Dunkelweisen
Total for 2011: 65 Gallons

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