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!’
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.