Drink / Let them drink beer

French beers for Bastille (or any other) Day

As Monday marks Bastille Day, I shall storm the fridge this weekend. I will not be starving, demanding bread, merely hungry and thirsty for food and drink suitable to celebrate the Revolution.

In an off-licence near my home, I recently spotted the obvious libation. Sans Culottes is an aromatic, appetising, fruity-tasting, strong (7.0 per cent) bronze beer, made at the farmhouse brewery of Alain and Martine Dhaussy at Hordain, south of Lille and near Valenciennes.

The brewery also makes a slightly stronger (7.5), more soothing, vanilla- tinged beer called Brassin Robespierre. This not only honours the revolutionary but recalls the fact that he came from a brewing family.

Their other products, also at 7.5, include a less complex Blonde and a toffeeish Ambree, both under the name La Choulette.

The hinterland of Lille has nine or 10 small breweries making beers in this style, with a fruitiness closer to that of a British ale than a continental lager. Some are, indeed, made with ale yeasts.

In rural areas, they were originally produced with enough strength and living yeast to be laid down as a provision, and they are still known as bieres de gardes ("beers to keep").

These days, most are matured in the brewery, typically for a few weeks, but sometimes for months. Several have a cellar character (almost a musty earthiness), along with a distinctively spicy maltiness. Barley grown in the Champagne region, and hops from French Flanders, are often used. Many bieres de gardes are put into 75cl Champagne bottles with wired corks. Some have a yeast sediment and a Champagne-like toastiness. These flavoursome brews are far more individualistic than the mainstream Alsatian lagers that fill Volvos and Transit vans homebound from Calais.

Among bieres de gardes available in Britain, several bear the marks of French history. The Jeanne d'Arc brewery of Ronchin, near Lille, has recently introduced the grainy, figgy-tasting Ambree des Flandres (6.4 per cent) and the golden, smooth, malty Grain d'Orge (8.0). Both are beers of some complexity, especially the latter. It carries a neck-tag bearing a series of recipes using the beer. My most recent example told me how to employ Grain d'Orge in a sauce for Coquilles St Jacques.

St Patron, a beer from the Castelain brewery at Benifontaine, near Lens, celebrates the 11th-century monk (and later bishop) Arnold of Soissons. He is one of the patron saints of brewers, having defeated a plague by advising the populace to drink it rather than water. This beer, bottled sur lie (ie with a yeast sediment), at 7.5 per cent, has a fresh fruitiness and perfumy hop character.

Much as I have enjoyed all these beers, I thought I had found the ideal Bastille brew when I stumbled upon the very strong (9.3) La Guillotine, with a fine head, sustained bubbles and a peppery finish. As it turned out, the name had misled me. La Guillotine is from a brewery in the safe haven of Belgium... and one that claims to predate the Revolution The La Choulette range can be found at the Chiswick Cellar, 84 Chiswick High Rd, London, W4 (0181-994 7989), and the Beer Shop, 14 Pitfield St, London N1 (0171-739 3701). A wide selection of beers can be obtained (by mail-order, if required) from Beer Paradise, Unit 11, Riverside Place, South Accommodation Rd, Leeds, LS9 ORQ (0113-235-9082). There is a selection of bieres de gardes at the Beer Cellar, 31 Norwich Rd, Strumpshaw, Norwich, NR13 4AG (01603 714884)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    £26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

    Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

    Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

    Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral