Category Archives: France

Beer and Pretzels in Strasbourg

Meteor beer advertising sign, Strasbourg, France.

Beer has a greater prominence in Strasbourg than in any other French city we’ve visited, except perhaps Lille.

‘Well, that’s hardly a surprise,’ you might say, ‘given that it was part of Germany until 1918.’ And, yes, though it is more complicated than that, street signs are in Alsatian as well as French (Grand Rue is translated as Langstross, for example); and, alongside croissant and pain au chocolat, all the bakers sell excellent pretzels.

The beer culture, though, doesn’t feel like a reminder of old Strassberg, but as if it came as part of the package with the European Parliament. As in other French cities, or Spanish ones, for that matter, there are local pilsners of varying degrees of blandness, lots of imported beer at high prices, several brewpubs, and a handful of small ‘artisanal’ brewers making hazy, vaguely saison-like bottled beers.

Though we were initially excited at the sight of two branches of the Beer Academy and another specialist Belgian beer bar, the fact that they weren’t selling much we couldn’t buy in most UK supermarkets, and a general sense of exploitative tackiness, caused us to swerve away at the threshold. We did note, however, the ready availability of a rare British beer: Brewdog Punk IPA, which is conquering the world alongside Guinness and Leffe.

The most famous local brewery is Kronenbourg, but most of the locals, as far as we could see, seemed to prefer Meteor. Of their two flagship beers, Pils is the more characterful (their website says 5% ABV; the cafe where we first tried it said 4.6%). A touch brassy in colour, it is hardly big or complex, but we found it a decent, tasty beer with just enough bitterness. It seemed generally to be reasonably priced, too, at around €5 for 500ml. (Compare that to €8+ for 330ml of Heineken in Paris.)

Lanterne beer label.La Lanterne (5 Rue de Lanterne) is a student pub (Jäeger bombs!) which just happens to make its own beer, and sells it very cheaply by French standards.

The blonde, an intended Leffe clone at 6.4%, was just a tiny bit sour (oops!), Christmas spicy, and with a solid malt character — not at all soupy or yeasty despite the customary brewpub haze. The wheat beer (we didn’t note the ABV — sorry!) was similarly pleasing, though it showed evidence of too much sweet orange peel, and it too was a little sour. Finally, we braved a 330ml bottle of a seasonal beer called simply Lanterne (6.4%), which was on deep discount at €3.50. It tasted like scrumpy cider. Clearly, something had gone wrong, and yet… we sort of enjoyed it. After all, aren’t sour, fruit-accented hybrid beers all the rage in the UK right now?

Au Brasseur (22 Rue de Veaux) was an altogether hilarious experience. Overworked and frantic waiters ignored us and everyone else, only stopping to take orders when physically arrested by frustrated customers. The seasonal special was (supposedly) an English-style bitter at 6.8%, but, despite its strength and sticky-sweet treacly maltiness, it was actually rather bland. Both their Blonde (a weaker, less spicy Leffe clone at 5%) and wheat beer (4.6%) were perfectly decent — clean, at least, if not exciting.

We had to hunt a little harder for the local bières artisanales, but eventually found a few trendily-designed bottles of beer from Uberach in a late night cake shop. (France, eh?) Juliette (4.8 %) was a farmhouse beer flavoured with peach, ginger and rose. We found it hard going — brash and artifical-tasting, like fruit tea rather than beer. Having said that, with a little refinement, the underlying idea could go down well in the UK. La Klintz (also 4.8%), a wheaty-tasting hazy blonde Belgian-style beer from the same brewery, was just fine but seemed to be lacking a dimension or two, and was ultimately too sweet for us.

So, there is plenty of beer in Strasbourg, but nothing worth going out of your way for, at least not that we had chance to try during our brief visit.

There’s a gallery with more pictures on our Facebook page.

Revisiting old haunts

Unfiltered lager at Naturbier in Madrid

When I went on my travels a couple of years ago around Spain and France, I didn’t have a huge number of amazing beer experiences to report.  Nonetheless, there were a couple of interesting places  to which I was keen to take Baileythis time round.

The first was Naturbier in Madrid,  a friendly brewpub in the heart of the city. I was interested to see if Bailey would agree with my positive opinions and he did, although we both agreed that this time the “rubio” (blonde/pale) beer was better — almost as good as some unfiltered lagers we’d had in Germany.

The second was the Frog & Rosbif (Paris St Denis branch) which seems to have quite a bad reputation as an expat dive.  I loved it last time and was almost a bit nervous to take Bailey there… Would it be as good?

Yes and no.  The wheat beer and lager were a bit odd tasting, and the waitress warned us off the stout (“It’s not so good today.  Why not try something something else?”).  But the two ales were fresh and the atmosphere and service were great.  What’s interesting about this place is how it manages to be so popular with the locals: we didn’t spot any obvious ex-pats. It’s certainly not because it’s cheap…


We're back (with a short beer review)

Wendelinus Abbey Beer from French brewery Meteor

We got back from our hols yesterday and have a few beer-related bits and pieces to report. For starters, though, we’ll mention the very first halfway decent beer of the break — Wendelinus Biere d’Abbaye, from the French brewery Meteor. They’re based in the not-very-French sounding Alsation town of Hochfelden. It’s done up to look like a cheap knock-off of Leffe.

Our bottles came from the train’s buffet car, and were served in plastic tumblers. It actually tasted pretty pleasant — some honey flavours and spiciness — but that might be partly because we were bored stiff stuck on a train in the south of France waiting for a smashed up lorry to be removed from a level crossing up ahead. We thought it as good as the blond beers from Leffe or Grimbergen, at any rate.

More basque beer, this time from the French side

patxaran.jpgWhilst in Biarritz, I went beer hunting. I was actually after some Akerbeltz, as I’d spotted an advert for their brewery in the tourist office. However, they couldn’t be bothered to respond to my email to tell me where to find the stuff, so I had an amusing afternoon going into every wine shop and off-licence that was open and baffling the locals with my quest for more biere artisanale. More fun that way, and I found a couple of other basque products instead.

Firstly, the intriguingly titled “Etxeko Bob’s beer” — unfiltered, unpasteurised etc.. The brewery is just outside Bayonne, and has a half-built website here. The beer itself was inoffensive but not that exciting. Quite a lot like the other beers I had in the south of France that I generalised about yesterday. That said, I had shaken it up quite a lot before drinking it, so I probably wasn’t drinking it in peak condition.

I was expecting Oldarki Patxaran beer to be revolting – it is beer mixed with Patxaran, a basque spirit made from sloe berries. However, it was actually very tasty. It wasn’t particularly sweet, just fruity and very refreshing. It was copper-red coloured, with a light body. It reminded me a little bit of Meantime’s Raspberry beer, but also of a strawberry beer I had in Belgium once (but not as sickly). Very hard to pin down the flavour – as their website says,

“it is a very specific beverage and can’t be compared to any other beer; the Patxaran-based recipe is exclusive”

I’m not a huge fruit beer fan, but I really liked this.


Generalisations about artisan brews in the south of France

A couple of months back on the way out to Spain, I blogged to express my surprise that there was a micro-brewing scene in the south of France, and several helpful commentators provided useful links to find out more.

Using these links, I managed to track down products from at least five breweries from the Midi – nothing on tap, unfortunately, but bottles can be found with a bit of searching in the off-licences, supermarkets and “regional produce” shops in the bigger cities such as Montpellier and Toulouse. Ask for “biere artisanale”.

beer_bottle.jpgSo why nothing on the blog about the exciting brewing scene? Unfortunately, all of the beers I’ve tried have (literally) been nothing to write home about, ranging from dull homebrew to actively unpleasant.

They always look promising – attractive packaging, reminiscent of small Belgian breweries. They’re usually unfiltered, unpasteurised, and “refermented in the bottle”. Unfortunately, they all have a similar flavour profile (or lack) – little or no malt taste, and what hops you can taste usually have a fairly astringent grassy flavour.

In fact, the tastes were so similar that it made me wonder whether they were attempting to brew like that, whether it is a specific “style” made for the Midi market. Or perhaps it’s due to having poor quality primary ingredients. Or maybe it’s just that it’s early days, and they’ll get better. I hope so.

I don’t want to list the culprits here because I don’t like slagging off small brewers, and I promise that if I have a good one I will log it here!

In the meantime, if you’re a French microbrewer and reading this (unlikely, as my experience tells me you’re unlikely to even respond to direct emails asking where to find your beer), get yourself to the Frog and Rosbif in Toulouse to see how it should be done.