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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

En France

Yesterday, I zipped across the border for a quick tour of St Germain/Page 24 and Castelain/Ch'ti. (Ch'ti is pronounced, incidentally, with a quick "shh" followed by a brief verbal pause, and then "tee.")

The French brewing scene is at full metastasis, but it's apparently about where the US was in, say, 1994; lots of breweries, but very spotty quality and no sense of overall direction. The French embrace biere de garde as te indigenous style, but I don't see agreement on what the philosophy behind the beer should be.

Ch'ti, located in the same brewhouse since 1926, is a keeper of the traditional flame. They use a lager yeast and lager their brands for 6-12 weeks. The result is a line of exceedingly smoothy, silky beers focused directly on malty easy drinking. ("Keeping" is done at the brewery--drinkers should enjoy the beer fresh.)

I think Page 24 may have the idea about where the style should go, and I was hugely impressed with their line. The have a tripartite brewing/ownership structure, and the three brains have decided that localness is the key to "style." So, they use only ingredients sourced locally, including hops at nearby fields. (Locally grown barley is malted elsewhere, but this seems like a permissible deviation.)

Unlike Ch'ti, Page 24 beers feature a lovely herbal hoppy character. It carries through each of their beers and makes them quite recognizable. Page 24 brews with sugar from local beets, and uses chicory and rhubarb in two of my favorite beers.

French brewing is going to change a lot in the next two decades, and I'm reluctant to guess which direction it will take. (One bug challenge is wine, which is not only dominant culturally, but cheap Stephane at Page 24 told me a good bottle is roughly the same price as a bottle of their beer.) But it's fun to visit a place where things are exciting and growing.

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