La Brasserie Artisanale de Nice

Bottles from Brasseries Artisanale de Nice.

That’s actually the name of the brewery, not a description – a clear benefit of being one of the first ‘craft’ breweries in your region.

We were tipped off to the exis­tence of Nice’s answer to The Ker­nel by Rate­beer. We tried to find the beers on sale in a bar or restau­rant but didn’t have any luck and so vis­it­ed the brew­ery to buy take­away bot­tles dur­ing the brief dai­ly win­dow between 17:00–19:00.

It oper­ates out of a retail unit on lit­er­al­ly the wrong side of the tracks, beyond the main sta­tion, away from the sea and the his­toric tourist dis­trict, and is the kind of place that you think mustn’t actu­al­ly exist until you go just one block fur­ther and, yes, there it is across the road from a seedy cafe near a board­ed-up super­mar­ket.

The own­er seemed delight­ed to see us and want­ed to know how we’d found out about the brew­ery; he’d nev­er heard of Rate­beer but wrote down the URL. When we said, ‘This isn’t real­ly beer ter­ri­to­ry, is it?’ he gave a long, bit­ter laugh and rolled his eyes. ‘You can say that again!’

Brewery premises and van.

There’s no option to drink on site – this isn’t a tap room – so he pack­aged up a few bot­tles while we flipped through a well-worn copy of Yeast (a good sign?) and a cou­ple of French lan­guage beer mag­a­zines. The beers cost a cou­ple of Euros per 330ml bot­tle.

We wan­dered back to our room and tast­ed the beers, feet up, watch­ing France’s Best Boulanger.

Hop­stock (5.5%) is described as Ambreé but sub­ti­tled ‘Cas­cade Pale Ale’, and was the brewer’s per­son­al rec­om­men­da­tion. We expect­ed very lit­tle based on pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ences of French arti­sanal beer but it made a good first impres­sion – gem-clear red-brown, with a big, grassy, fresh hop aro­ma. The first taste sug­gest­ed straw­ber­ries, but that was ulti­mate­ly over­whelmed by an over-heavy caramel char­ac­ter, and then lost alto­geth­er in a watery, emp­ty fin­ish. Still, there was a bit of inter­est in it, and it was far from nasty – a nice try which it would be good to try on draught, by the pint. We’d drink it over Heineken any day, but it’s not a La Chouffe beat­er.

Zytha Blonde (5%) was also per­fect­ly clear, look­ing like a stan­dard lager in the glass. Inspired by local cui­sine, it con­tains chick peas and grains of par­adise, though, sad­ly (prob­a­bly – or maybe not?) they weren’t much in evi­dence. There was a sol­id hop aro­ma sug­gest­ing man­goes and man­darin oranges – per­haps the spices played their part here? – but the flavour was less frilly: a basic, decent ‘drinker’ with just a bit of quirky char­ac­ter. Bet­ter than Heineken? Yes. Chouffe? No, again.

Blù­na (4.8%) is a Bel­gian-style Wit­bier with orange peel and corian­der. Here, the fruit and spice were promi­nent but well judged. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the beer tast­ed dis­tract­ing­ly sour, and the body was mealy rather than silky. The test with wit­biers is whether they’re bet­ter than Hoe­gaar­den and, sad­ly, this one isn’t. We weren’t even sure we’d choose it over Heineken, except out of a soft-heart­ed desire to sup­port a nice feller doing some­thing inter­est­ing out on a limb.

But two out of three good ‘uns, clean and enjoy­able, is a start; and, with tweak­ing, there’s no rea­son these beers couldn’t become some­thing a bit spe­cial.