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.


The Frog and Rosbif, Toulouse and Paris

frogandrosbif.jpgFrogpubs are a chain of brewpubs in France; they have four outlets in Paris, one in Bordeaux and one in Toulouse. (According to their beermats in Toulouse, they have a new one in Pau, too, but this doesn’t seem to have made it onto their website.)

Each pub brews six beers to the same recipe, although they have slightly different names depending on the pubs. I had the pleasure of visiting the Toulouse branch and the St Denis branch in Paris on consecutive days, and both were great, although slightly different.

Firstly, the beers. One of the many clever things about the business model is that they make both lagers and ales; there is something for everyone. The “blonde” is a beautifully crisp and clean lager, unpasteurised and unfiltered, which tastes like a revelation in the context of all that bloody Heineken. Reminded me of the Helles you get pubs in southern Bavaria.

Next up is the “blanche”, with orange peel. I only had a taster of this in Toulouse, and it the overwhelming flavour for me was lemon.  Would be nice in the summer, I think, but wasn’t for me at that particular time. To complete the lagers, there is a “ginger twist”; as you might imagine, this has ginger in it. I like ginger beer in small quantities, and a half of this was pleasant enough, but I was keen to move onto the ales.

On the ale front, Frogpubs offer a paleish ale (called “Aeropost’Ale in Toulouse, and “Inseine” in Paris), a red-brown ale, and a stout. These were all very interesting, not lease because the taste varied from pub to pub. The Aeropost’Ale was my favourite in Toulouse; it had nailed the English summer ale style absolutely perfectly (if I can generalise about styles like that…) Hoppy, fruity and homesickness-inducing.  In contrast, I preferred the red-brown ale (“Brew de l’Industrie” in Toulouse, “Parislytic” in Paris) in the Paris branch, where it tasted not unlike Fullers ESB. The stout was good in both locations.

Both pubs had a similar mix of international students, locals and expats – I spotted at least one German party in both. The Frog in Toulouse doesn’t have a kitchen, but has the great business idea of hooking up with two local restaurants – one of which is a curry house – to keep the punters fed. The Frog in Paris offers fancy-looking pub grub which seemed to be very popular with French and expats alike.


Locations of Frogpubs, descriptions of beer and other fun stuff can be found on their website. You can read about the history of the company and even buy someone a drink online.

Homecoming beer: Thornbridge St Petersburg Stout

I’m back in the UK. We’d been saving a bottle of St Petersburg Stout for a while (“best after November 2007”) and it seemed like a good occasion to drink it. The brewery, Thornbridge produce a range of interesting beers, including Jaipur, which has been featured in many magazines this year. imperian-russian-stout.jpg

This “Imperial Russian Stout” is 7.7% and absolutely glorious. Extremely complex layers of flavours that linger a long time, with a flowery hoppy aroma. This may sound weird but the mix of vanilla, coffee, and milky notes reminded me of Bailey’s. But with a fantastic roasted chocolate-bitter kick at the end.

A fitting homecoming beer to remind me of the exciting brewing scene in this country.