beer reviews France

La Brasserie 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!’

homebrewing opinion

Lessons for Beer Street from Gin Lane

Plymouth Gin Distillery, Devon, UK.

By Boak

Last weekend, seeking to avoid what could easily have felt like five wet Sundays in a row in Penzance, we spent a couple of days in Plymouth, and made like tourists. Activity one: the Plymouth Gin distillery tour, where we learned a lot about beer.

We don’t drink a lot of gin, but my Mum’s partial, and I’ve been buying her bottles of ‘small batch’, ‘artisanal’ gin as presents for a couple of years. Plymouth Gin rates itself as the most artisanal of the big brands, if that makes sense. But… the base alcohol is produced in Scotland; the gin is bottled in Essex; and most of the process is automated. “Here’s where our distiller loads the botanicals himself, through this hatch,” said the tour guide. “That’s what makes our gin handcrafted.” At this point, her voice was drowned out by the sounding of the bullshit alarm.

Lesson one, then: unless you’re talking objects, ‘handcraftedness’ really is a poor measure of quality.

The tasting stage of the tour was the real eye-opener, though. First, we were talked through the various herbs and spices (‘botanicals’) in the recipe and couldn’t help but think of Belgian Witbier when talk turned to coriander, cardamom, lemon and orange peel. It was when things got tactile that a bulb really went on: crushing the small-seeded Russian coriander used in Plymouth Gin, we realised it is nothing at all like the earthy, woody Indian stuff we use at home. It smells more like lemons or lemon verbena, and extremely pungent.

Lesson two: coriander is a more complex variable than we’d appreciated, and we need to experiment more.

We’d never even heard of Orris Root which the guide tells us is used mostly for its ability to help keep essential oils in suspension in the gin.

Lesson three: there are more herbs and spices to play with in brewing than we’d previously been aware, some of which might be very useful.

After all that, we enjoyed our complimentary gin and tonic at the end of the tour, but, being beery people at heart, found ourselves itching to brew a gin-inspired Wit sooner rather than later.

The tour costs £7 per person and takes about 30 minutes. The cocktail bar upstairs also happens to have a small selection of bottled beers including Brewdog Punk IPA and Anchor Steam.

beer reviews Spain

Ancient Roman beer (sort of)

Zaragozana brewery's Caesar Augusta wheat beer

El Corte Ingles, the big Spanish department store, has an excellent range of bottled beers and so, last week, we  spent a night on our terrace in Malaga tasting a few and watching the world go by.

As Mahou is one of our least favourite beers, we hadn’t bothered with their Negra, assuming it would be overly sweet and fizzy. However, as Beer Nut had tried it and liked it, we gave it a go. It’s got a promising aroma of coffee and pours with a decent head. It’s also got a good stout-like body which was a pleasant surprise. It tastes pleasant enough, not particularly challenging but a nice surprise from the Madrid brewery.

All the Spanish breweries seem to be pushing premium and reserve brands at the moment and Selecta is San Miguel’s effort. I thought that The only real flavour was alcohol – at 6.2% it didn’t seem worth the units. However, Bailey liked it, detecting toffee and fruity flavours. All in all, a bit like a festbier from a dull regional german brewery.

We had more hopes from two offerings from the Zaragozana brewery, who produce Ambar.  Export is 7%, and the label bangs on about multiple types of malt and ‘double fermentation’. It’s OK, with a malty biscuit flavour and comforting goopy body, but there’s not a lot else going on. It’s like a dull Belgian. Better than the San Miguel effort but again I require a bit more flavour from a 7% beer.  Maybe a bit of a tramps’ brew, all told?

Their Ceasar Augusta* is a different story, though, and a runaway success. It’s a bottle-conditioned wheat beer in the Belgian style and tastes like a maltier, slightly sweeter version of hoegaarden. We’ve been saying for a while that Belgian wit would be a good style for Spanish breweries to experiment with — it goes with the food, can be drunk cold and there’s an obvious link to Spanish flavours in the use of orange peel — and Zaragozana have done really well with this one.

*Zaragoza is a corruption of “Caesar Augusta”, the original Roman name of the settlement. There are references to the Romans all over the bottle including Latin labelling. Classy.


homebrewing recipes

Recipe and instructions for Belgian Witbier

Our wit sitting in the sun
Our wit sitting in the sun

When we wrote about our blackberry beer a week or so back, we mentioned that we made it using a witbier base. We thought we’d also share how we made the witbier.

We owe most of the recipe to Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing — a truly inspirational homebrewing book, although not really one for beginners as it is rather erratically laid out at times. But we’re constantly using it for new ideas and it has been worth every penny.

We’ve had a couple of goes at this, refining the second recipe to make a beer that’s a little tarter and more to our tastes. We’re extremely pleased with the final result, which as you can see from the picture looks reasonably authentic. It’s very refreshing and drinkable, and wonderfully weak too — our second version was a mere 3.5% (more by accident than design).


Blackberry wit beer works

Blackberry wit beer, on our aspirational garden table, next to an aspirational salad
Blackberry wit beer, on our aspirational garden table, next to an aspirational salad

Last year we brewed a lurid blackberry wheatbeer. It was actually pretty successful — it was refreshing, very fruity and very purple. There were no off flavours, but the problem was that it didn’t really taste of anything other than blackberry.

So when the blackberry season came round again, we were determined to try and make something a little more subtle. This time we used a Belgian wit beer as a base (perhaps more on how we made this another day), siphoning off around five litres into a carboy after three weeks of primary fermentation.

We prepared a blackberry concentrate by mashing up around half a pound of blackberries with a bit of water over some heat. We strained off the juice, and boiled this for 10 minutes to make sure it was sterile. This left us with about 50ml of thick juice. Once cooled, we added it to the witbier. We left it for a month in secondary, and then bottled it about three weeks ago.

We’ve just opened our first bottle, and it’s a triumph, though we do say so ourselves. You can definitely taste the underlying witbier, but it blends rather nicely with the fruity and slightly tart notes the blackberries lend. I’d be interested to try this on someone who didn’t know what was in it — I think they’d identify that it may have fruit in it, but they may not guess blackberry. That said, the peachy colour looks unusual. I think we’ve hit on the right proportion of blackberries to add an extra layer of flavouring without overpowering the base beer, and it would be interesting to try the same procedure with other types of beer.

It’s also very refreshing and drinkable. We don’t know exactly how strong it is, but the base witbier is about 3.7% so it’ll be a little over that, I guess. Anyone know how much sugar there is in half a pound of blackberries?

PIty we made so few bottles… but there are more blackberries in the freezer.