Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Underground Beer Culture Surviving in Wine Country Part 2

My next few attempts at finding delicious beer in France were nothing short of brilliant successes.  One of the days when we were walking around the city of Narbonne, we had stumbled upon an underground bar/brewery that was advertising lambics for only 2.50€.  But, of course, with our luck it was closed.  I do have the best wife in the world though, and she promised me that we could go back another night.

Well that night came and it was everything I could ever want in a bar.  L'Antre de l'Echoppe was literally an underground beer culture.  It was a tiny brewpub that was built into an old cobblestone cellar with a medieval theme and with plenty of both domestic and import beers on tap for reasonable prices.  This brewpub was so small in fact that they actually brew in the bar, and when it is open, they just push the equipment off to the side.

They only had two of their own beers on tap, but they were both spectacular. 

The first that we had was La Blonde Maison.  At 5% ABV, this was an extremely easy drinking beer.  It was cloudy, very light, and fruity with a slight sharpness at the end.  La Noire Maison was another 5% ABV beer.  Surprisingly, for having a dark, strong, and chocolaty aroma it was unexpectedly light.  It had a deep chocolate malt flavor with almost no linger.  I hope that some day I am fortunate enough to get back to Narbonne and to L'Antre de l'Echoppe again.

When we went up to Carcassonne after Narbonne, I was hell bent on finding some Biers de Carcassonne, but we had no such luck.  We did however find a couple of other beers in a small boutique shop.  At first I was a little skeptical about them, but chilled that night in our Barcelona I indulged and was more than satisfied.

Abbaye Fontfroide not only is a remarkably beautiful abbey outside of Narbonne, but the namesake has been used for an artisanal beer.  The nose is a very subtle spicy (peppery) aroma from the yeast, and there is an excellent head, so good, it made pouring difficult.  It was very heavy beer that was both sweet and spicy notes that shockingly did not linger long at all.  There was an excellent floral flavor as well, and after tasting some of the raw honeys in the area, I would not be surprised if that was where it was coming from.

We never went to the Abbaye de Valmange, but much like Fontfroide, they lent their name to a beer.  It was extremely aromatic with overpowering caramel notes.  The beer itself some subtle spicy notes along with the chocolate and caramel flavors. 

So in the end, I would have to say I am pretty impressed with the beers the south of France had to offer.  (Their wines weren't that bad either.)  I just wish I wouldn't have been so blind when I was traveling around Europe in the past not searching an scouring for the artisan beers.  I can only imagine how many delicious ones I have missed on my travels.

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

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