13 December 2010

The troubled life of Brittany's beers

"Bières d'Excellence" it said on the box of Breton brews that Dave and Laura brought back from holidays for me, accompanied by the proviso that I should expect no such thing from the contents.

The first one I opened was called Dremmwel Blonde: 5% ABV, made from organic ingredients and sporting a jaunty set of Breton bagpipes on the label and cap. Lots of sediment in the bottom of the bottle so I poured carefully, giving me a hazy brass-coloured glassful, topped by a fine foam of purest white. Lots of breath-stopping carbon dioxide from the nose, and an odd herbiness underneath, warranting further investigation. It's not overly fizzy, just a pleasantly busy prickle helping keep the flavours clean. The main one is dry, slightly grassy and vegetal -- asparagus springs to mind. Beyond it there's little by way of malt or hops, but as a light clean aperitif, I was quite happy with this.

The amber followed next: Gwiniz Du. An attractive conker-red body is somewhat spoiled by the large floaty chunks buoyed up by a vigorous carbonation. According to the label it's a wheat beer [correction: buckwheat. French lessons via Mark & Laurent], but there's no sign of the soft texture or fruits or spices that one might expect. Instead it's very sweet, exhibiting lots of dark treacle and a touch of bitter liquorice. As is so often the case with sugar-bombs like this, once it gets warm it becomes sickly and cloying. This isn't my sort of beer but doubtless the style-conscious tramps of Quimper will be all over it next season.

Last of the trio is Celtika. "Enter into Hell" is the strapline on the MS Paint label. Oo-er. That bad, eh? Since it's advertised as a blonde and is 8.8% ABV, and given the satanic branding, I figured they were going for something along the lines of Duvel. It pours rather darker, however: a murky orange with bits in. The aroma has the yeasty spice of a strong Belgian blonde, but the similarities end there. Like Gwiniz Du it's powerfully sweet, full of candied lemons with a finish of aftershave. There's a definite touch of cardboardy oxidation in there, and an unpleasant gastric sharpness. OK, that sounds worse than it is. It's drinkable, but it's no kind of substitute for proper Belgian-style strong blonde ale.

I don't know enough about the beers of western France to start making generalisations, but if this is what gets classed as excellent then there's some work still to be done in getting the recipes right. Thanks again Dave and Laura for generously off-loading these on me.

9 comments:

  1. I haven’t had Brittany’s beers for about 10 years but I was distinctly underwhelmed at the time, with the big bits of bits floating about in the glass and the home-brewiness of it all putting me off. But on the other hand you can get beers from Brit micros with the same faults.

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  2. The first three were absolute rotgut. 80% of them ended up down the sink and they still managed to give me a hangover.

    I am slightly annoyed these ones weren't wretched as I was looking forward to seeing them slagged.

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  3. And you can get much better than either from home brewers, Adrian. Just saying...

    Sorry to disappoint, Dave. I still have one of the other ones from that gift set in the fridge so, chin up, maybe it'll be complete piss.

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  4. And I was considering Brittany for a beer trip some time after my Jaunt in Normandy turned out quite well....

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  5. It could be full of great beer. But these aren't it.

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  6. Gwiniz Du is a "bière au blé noir", "blé noir" being French for buckwheat, a non-cereal linked to Brittany because it goes in local pancakes. So son't be surprised if it does not taste of wheat.

    Oh and despite their apparently coming from separate companies, those three are all produced by Brasserie de Bretagne and its subsidiaries, which would indicate that this "Bières d'excellence" thing was dreamt up at their marketing department.
    (What were the three others, BTW ?)

    AFAIK there are a few worthy micros in Brittany, notably one ("Les Fous") run by British expats.
    But the two larger ones, Brasserie de Bretagne (under ist various brands, i.e. Britt, Celtika, Dremmwel or Ar-Men) and Lancelot, are all over the place and what the casual visitor are most likely to come across.

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  7. Also in the box there was Britt Rousse, Britt Blanche and Sant Erwann.

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  8. Righto, it's only produce from Brasserie de Bretagne and its subsidiary Britt then. And indeed the "bières d'excellence" thing must have been dreamt up at their marketing department...

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  9. Lugh Longhand11:46 p.m.

    I liked the Brasserie Lancelot buckwheat beer Telenn Du (Black Harp!!!!) its been a while and I've tried a few good beers since then so I would be interested to try it again to see if it is true love or was it just a holiday romance!

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