Microbreweries in the south of france?

Boak is on tour in France and Spain. This is the first update from “our foreign correspondent”…

Does anyone know anything about breweries in the south of France?

I’d assumed there wouldn´t be a lot, but in the tourist office in Beziers I noticed an advert for Brasserie d’Oc, between Beziers and Montpellier. Anyone had anything from them? They even offer a brewery tour, so if they´re any good, I´m tempted to take a detour and go and see.

I´m told there are others too, although a quick internet search has not turned up any names or places.

Have I totally misjudged the brewing scene in Languedoc, home of the most militant wine manufacturers in France?

Boak

Subtle = bland?

What’s the difference between a beer that’s subtle and one that’s bland?

There are quite a few terms used in beer writing which are imprecise.

The one that I agonise over most is “subtle”. There are some beers which, to me, have little or no flavour — certainly not a flavour worth trumpeting. They’re bland.

And yet I read articles by well-known beer writers waxing poetical about the subtle brilliance of the very same brews. Sometimes, the fine flavours are apparently so subtle that they only emerge when accompanied by, say, a particular type of bread, or at a certain temperature.

So, I think Commercial Lager X is bland; Big Shot Beer Writer thinks it “beguiles with a clean, malty palate, and a subtle hint of spicy hop in the aftertaste”. Huh?

Is my palate at fault? Perhaps. You might recall that it took a concentrated effort for us to discern what was, to us, a subtle distinction between Koelsch and bog standard lager.

Another possibility — could it be that these writers feel obliged to be nice about certain beers for political/commercial reasons? Possibly.

Most often, though, it’s probably just that most of us know when we like or dislike a particular beer and set about using words to justify our judgement.

So, what’s the difference between a beer with low-carbonation, and a beer that’s flat? A beer that’s subtle and one that’s bland? Or one with “crisp hop bitterness” and one that “is dry and astringent”?

Maybe nothing except that the critic likes the first beer, but doesn’t like the second.

Sherlock Holmes and Beer

Sherlock Holmes didn’t much go for beer. I read today, in one of the millions of footnotes in William S Baring Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes, that in all of the 56 short stories and four novels, he drinks beer only a handful of times. On two occasions, it’s half-and-half, which he drinks when disguised as a working man.

But that didn’t stop him posing for this advertisement for Mann’s Brown Ale in the 1950s (click for bigger version).

sherlockholmes_small.jpg

Although, to be fair, it’s Watson who’s the boozer in this case.

Picture taken from Peter Haining’s Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook.

Specialist Beer Shop in Darlington

I was recently in Darlington for work, and scheduled a brief visit to the city’s specialist beer shop.

Unlike most other specialist shops like, say, the York Beer and Wine Shop, or Open Bottles in Somerset, it isn’t a little store run by a middle-aged chap in a jumper — it’s part of a huge department store. Binns is part of the House of Fraser chain, and looks like the set of Are You Being Served.

After wandering around “teen fashions” for a while, getting some very funny looks, I found a dark cavern at the back of the basement stacked high with wine, beer and beer glasses. I couldn’t carry much, but picked up a Witkap Stimulo, an Anchor Porter and a Maudite, all of which were on sale.

I left behind a lot of interesting looking ales from up North, several bottles of St Bernardus 12 and a great big shiny Judas goblet which caught my eye, but which I knew would get broken on the train if I’d dared to buy it.

All in all, there must have been around 100 different beers on sale, which sure beats my local branch of Sainsbury’s. Londoners will know that the Army and Navy Stores in Westminster (also part of House of Fraser) also has a decent beer selection, but Binns is quite a bit better. Various experts say that it’s not as good as it used to be since the retirement of its original manager and the introduction of central buying, but I was nonetheless impressed.

If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a look.

Mild on the Rise?

mightyoak.gifOur local is an interesting place. For years it was a complete dump, very much like the Murderer’s Arms from Viz’s notorious “Real Ale T**ts” comic strip. But about five years ago, it was refurbished and reopened as a would-be trendy venue for hip young people.

I say “would-be” because it’s not as trendy as it thinks it is, and the clientele is neither uniformly trendy nor young — there are often groups of old ladies in there, and grumpy blokes reading the paper on their own. Nonetheless, it’s become a huge success because it’s the only pub in the area with a really warm, buzzing atmosphere, and because it has a garden.

I go there for another reason, though — the mild.

There are usually four or five ales on, but on the whole, they’re not well kept. Last year, though, someone convinced the landlord to take part in CAMRA’s campaign to promote mild, and Mighty Oak‘s Oscar Wilde appeared on the pumps. It’s been there ever since, fresh, local, well kept, and slowly gaining popularity.

Last night, I stood at the bar and listened to a stream of young men and young women order pint after pint of the stuff. So much, in fact, that the barrel had to be changed.

Ordinary people (as opposed to obvious beer nerds) were saying things like:

“Three point seven per cent? Wicked. I’ll have one of those.”

“Four pints of mild and a Kronenbourg, please. Oh — tell you what — make it five pints of mild.”

Someone ordered a whole round of mild! Becks Vier wasn’t getting a look in. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of that or Carling C2 cornering the weak session beer market, mild did?