Category Archives: Regions

Good Beer in Marseille Pt 2: Big Menu Bars

There are two bars in Marseille with large beer ranges, both out of the centre of the city: La Cane Bière near the Parc Longchamp, and Bar Fietje, in the shadow of the cathedral of Notre-Dame Du Mont.

Fietje (143 rue Sainte) is a relatively new venture that opened (we think) in June this year as a spin-off from a well established bottle shop in La Plaine. It is on a fairly quiet, mostly residential back street and would look more like a shop or showroom than a bar if it was not for the crowd of smokers sipping beer from Teku glasses around the front door. Inside, the decor is ‘craft industrial’ — bare brick, wooden beer crates re-purposed as shelves, stripped boards, wipe clean tiles and steel and, yes, the obligatory Edison lightbulbs.

The beers — around 80 in total — were listed on Perspex boards on the walls, with those on draught also being displayed, with prices per 250ml, above the row of taps on the wall behind the bar.

Fietje taps.

There wasn’t much to excite the hardened ticker other than a couple of local beers that, when pressed, the barman told us he could not wholeheartedly recommend, but we didn’t go short of good stuff to drink, from BrewDog IPAs to Belgian classics. The only beers that were expensive were the British imports — everything else was priced on a par with standard lagers available elsewhere in the city, at €3 to €4 per serving.

The atmosphere was a touch quiet and scholarly — you have to be a real geek to be into beer in Provence, it seems — but certainly friendly enough, and we felt quite comfortable spending a couple of hours revisiting old favourites. We especially enjoyed some of the (relatively speaking) bargain-priced bottles: it’s been a while since we bought Rochefort 10 for anything like €5 (about £3.70), on- or off-premises.

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La Cane Bière’s (32 Boulevard Philippon) name is a bit confusing: La Canebière, some distance away from this bar, is also the name of Marseille’s answer to Oxford Street, famous in the 19th century for its many swanky bars and cafes, and something of a symbol of the city. Though we had intended to visit we actually stumbled across it by mistake, our eyes drawn by the sight of people swigging Saison de Dottignies from the bottle around a table on the pavement outside, and swerved in.

Inside, we found a wall of bottles on shelves, a selection of bottles chilling in a freezer, and a single unlabelled beer on tap that we think was the increasingly ubiquitous La Chouffe. Though we could have enjoyed beers from BrewDog, Thornbridge or Fuller’s, we went for 375ml bottles of Saison Dupont 2015 Dry Hop (6.5%) — a limited edition beer we’ve struggled to get hold of in the UK and which tasted all the better at a mere €3.90 ( £2.90) a pop.

If Fietje was a touch uptight, La Cane Bière was a party waiting to happen: the entirely local crowd on the pavement, especially a tipsy bloke with dreadlocks, made space for us on one of the tiny tables and was generally welcoming. No-one was taking tasting notes or sniffing their pints and most weren’t even bothering with glasses for their Guinness Foreign Extra or saison. At one point, a dog sat on the pavement with its arse in front of a passing tram and there was a collective holding of breath; when the tram passed by within inches of the hapless hound, which barely blinked, we all cheered together. It sounds  a bit silly but it was one of those moments that reminds us of why its nice to get merry with strangers.

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Both bars were quite different even though their ranges overlapped. There is probably room for a few more such bars in a city as big and as cool as Marseille, though it might be nice to see a bit more beer from the area, or at least from France, on offer. But if it’s crap, it’s crap — there’s no point stocking it for the sake of it.

It’s interesting, we think, that both bars were self-service, contributing to a feeling of informality, signalling their difference — the distinctly un-French ‘global’ vibe — and presumably also helps to keep the price of the beer down.

Good Beer in Marseille Pt 1: La Plaine

Marseille is a rough-edged city where the default thirst-quencher is rosé wine but, with the gentrification of previously dodgy areas, there has come the beginnings of a beer scene.

Though we generally like to find places to eat and drink organically in the course of exploring, this time we did check Ratebeer’s local listings before we went, which told us there was a brewery with the whiff of ‘craft’ about it, along with a couple of specialist bars and bottle shops.

First, we sought out the brewery tap of Brasserie de la Plaine in the hip Cours Julien/La Plaine district where students, hippies, street drinkers and the bourgeois hang out in and around overlapping cafes, bars and public spaces, surrounded by graffiti, poodle crap and parked scooters. If you visited Hoxton in the 1990s, or Bristol about ten years ago, you’ll get the idea — not yet posh, exactly, but the grot is beginning to look a bit like window dressing.

The Bar de la Plaine (57 Place Jean Jaurès) is a tiny space on a corner where two draught beers and a selection of seasonal bottles are dispensed. We found a crowd of locals, many with children in tow, engaged in post-work debriefing as they knocked back small glasses of beer and scooped chunks from a liquid-ripe wheel of blue cheese on the counter.

La Plaine beers (Blanche, Blonde).
Blanche, left, and Blonde.

We didn’t expect much so were pleasantly surprised to find that neither of the draught beers was downright dirty — there was no unplanned sourness, and no floating grit between the teeth. Blanche (wheat beer, 6% ABV, €3 for a generous 250ml measure) was light-bodied to the point of wateriness, like lemon barley water. A heavy hand with the orange peel gave it most of its character. Though it didn’t reward concentrated pondering, as a refresher on a hot evening, it was quite welcome, and probably almost on a par with Hoegaarden.

Blonde (5%, €3 for 250ml) was a golden ale rather than lager, and clearer than the photo above makes it look. Served almost freezing cold, it seemed at first bland, gruel-like and yeasty but, as it warmed, it became more likeable with loaf-crust maltiness and a whisper of savoury-herbal hops. It’s not a complex beer but we’d certainly choose it over Heineken, if not over such commonly available Belgian beers such as La Chouffe.

We didn’t try the bottled beers — no-one else was drinking them either — but on our visit the range included an amber beer and one infused (we think) with essence of violets. An IPA advertised on the menu, and which we were keen to taste, was not available, being the seasonal special for October.

This is a solid contemporary community brewery making decent draught beer just about as adventurous as (we suspect) the local market will tolerate, for now. If we lived in Marseille, we we would certainly aim to make regulars of ourselves.

Serve Yourself in Nice

We’d been in Nice a couple of days before we took the right combination of turns in the pleasingly confusing old town and stumbled across Au Fût et à Mesure.

Discreet as it is, we noticed it because it wasn’t a bistro a cafe or a Bar Tabac, being less formal than the first, boozier than the second and smarter than the last. Then we noticed the beer list on display outside:

Au Fut et a Mesure, Nice: beer list, summer 2015.

Lots of places in Nice call themselves ‘Cave à Bières’ because they have Guinness and Kronenbourg, but this looked like a really decent range, and competitively priced at that (€3.90 for 250ml — cheaper than basic lager in many places we’d found ourselves). But we scratched our heads over ‘Nos bieres pression en self’ — was it a clever way of referring to bottles, or did they genuinely have all of these on tap? There was, of course, only one way to find out.

Continue reading Serve Yourself in Nice

Does it Work and is it Worth a Tenner?

Schneider’s Meine Porter Weisse is, as the name suggests, a cross-breeding of English porter and Bavarian wheat beer — an idea intriguing enough to convince us to part with £9.99 for 750ml.

Our first guess was that this would have something to do with Brooklyn Brewery but, no: publicity materials suggest that Georg Schneider conceived this beer with his friend ‘Alistair’, a brewer in London. Presumably there are legal reasons for the coyness — this is not a formal collaboration — but there’s only one porter-obsessed global craft beer aristocrat who really fits the bill.

From its wheat beer ancestry it gains high carbonation and opacity, while the porter side gives it a rich red-black colour. It could look muddy (as dark wheat beers often do) but actually pulls off velvety richness.

The aroma is dominated by wheat beer characteristics: some pineapple, a little banana, and vanilla. With the first gulp, porter takes over with a burnt-toast and dark chocolate bitterness which works unsurprisingly well with the creamy texture. Ultimately, as the head dies away, the Dark Side comes to dominate, though a hint of tropical fruit persisted to the end.

We were reminded a little of Schneider’s own Aventinus and also of Anchor’s mouth-coating, chewy Porter, though this isn’t as good as either of those beers. It’s not a clumsy clash as many of these German-US-UK hybrids can be, but nor is it quite in balance, and our final impression was of wateriness — like drinking mild. That’s unforgivable in a 7% beer.

Though Bailey (who’s soft about mild) liked it more than Boak (who hates pineapple) neither of us would rush to drink it again, and certainly not at this price.


A couple of years ago we suggested a few indicators of a healthy beer culture. Number eight on our list was the presence of a ‘must try’ regional speciality. Having been reminded of that post, we’ve been thinking about which UK regions have something that fits the bill.

Now, we’re not talking about which beers are best or most exciting but those which in some way reflect local history and tradition, in the same way a Maß of Helles tells you you’re in Munich.

Here’s a partial list, very much off the top of our heads:

  • Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire: pale ale — Bass, Worthington White Shield or Marston’s Pedigree.
  • Cornwall: strong (c.5%), brown, sweetish ale, e.g. Spingo Middle, St Austell HSD.
  • Edinburgh: 80/-. (It’s not unique to Edinburgh but it’s what we’d seek out if we were there for one day on a fortnight’s tour of the UK and were never coming back.)
  • Glasgow: Tennent’s Lager — brewed here since 1885, in a country which went over to lager decades before England seriously got the taste.
  • Kent: bitter with Kentish hops, e.g. Shepherd Neame.
  • London: porter. It died out, yes, but this is where it was born, and there are some fairly authentic local examples now available, e.g. Fuller’s.
  • Manchester: Manchester pale ale — historically Boddington’s, which was notably light in colour and high in bitterness; now Lees’ MPA or Marble Manchester Bitter.
  • Salisbury, Wiltshire: golden ale, specifically Hop Back Summer Lightning at the Wyndham.
  • West Midlands: Batham’s or Holden’s Bitter. We asked Tania, a noted fan, to summarise what makes these beers different: ‘It’s the subtle malty sweetness that kicks in at the end of each sip, once the restrained hop bitterness has refreshed your mouth, that makes Black Country bitters so easy to drink.’
  • Yorkshire: bitter. A very broad region and a very vague local speciality that Leigh Linley tried to pin down here.

Continue reading In REGION You Must Try BEER