Let's buvons a bière: Dans la vallée de Ambre

An English brewer hosts a festival at their brewery tap. With German Oktoberfest and French micro-brewed beers. A spare Sunday afternoon. Should I go?

Ja, mon petit choufleur.

Pete Hounsell at Amber Ales has established a reputation for beers out of the ordinary. Inspiration and experimentation have led him to brew the likes of Jasmine IPA, a full-on saison and the multi-award-winning Chocolate Orange Stout. And he employs the same passion in tracking down beers out of the ordinary for his festivals.

Now, don't get me wrong. His own beers were standouts. Imperial IPA is the style on a short leash; plenty of bite, plenty of depth, no over-exuberant late hopping, enough alcohol to warm you. Double Chocolate Stout had heaps of earthy cocoa, roasty rather than sickly. The continental bottles, however, took the afternoon to another dimension.

I have a weakness for German bottled beers. Lets be clear, here: I've never been to Germany as a 'beer tourist' so I have no idea what quality German draft beer tastes like. But I love lots of the bottles I've tried. Two of my favourites were on sale here, the clean-and-crisp Augustiner Edelstoff and the feisty-bitter Schneider Hopfen-Weiss. Which I would have happily drank all day if it wasn't for Brasserie Thiriez.

The brewer is based in Esquelbecq, a village so far into Northern France that it's almost in the North Sea. It's also just over the border from Belgium, which clearly influences Thiriez's beers. The amber and blonde are solid stuff, the latter winning me over with its initial sweetness tempered well by citric bitterness into a drying finish.

Even better was Etoile Du Nord, originally a collaboration beer with John Davidson of Swale Brewery. Riddled with Bramling Cross, it could be described as a hoppy saison or a Belgian IPA. I don't give a monkey's chuff; I'll call it the best bitterish slighly spiced bottle beer I've had this year. Only 4.5%, it's the kind of beer that if it were made by a progressive English / US micro, geeks would be wetting their pants. Instead of which, it seems to be France's best-kept beery secret.

And that's before we get to their Vieille Brune. I could easily wax lyrical about this, but here's the summary: perfectly balanced sour ale. All the right notes in the right order. I'm not used to beers blindsiding me but this had me done stone cold. 

Maybe the trick is to think not of Northern France but West Flanders Plus A Bit. Whichever way, Brassiere Thiriez are making some of the most exciting beer to come out of almost-Belgium. And being able to try them on a soggy day in Derbyshire's Amber Valley is all down to the foresight of an English publican who understands the value of great beer. I'll raise a glass to that. Si danke schon, bonjour!

1 comment:

  1. i was given a sample bottle of beer in my local about 5 years ago.it was French-hazy/yeasty/hoppy.it was called Etoile du nord and ive often wondered who brewed it.it was superb.i was told it was going to be imported but have never seen it. cheers john