Now you can understand why I had to rent a car for this trip instead of taking the train- these breweries are remote. As you can see from this sign, this brewery is closed on Tuesdays- the day I arrived.
But when I saw a car and the light on in the brewery, of course I knocked (bloody American tourist!) and a surprised but very friendly man stopped his brewing to greet me and pour me a beer. A really fantastic beer. A beer worth the two hour drive to try.
This is Jean Yves Nauroy of La Franche. He is not afraid of hops, and his beers are super. He has a quiet warmth that made me both happy and ashamed that I interrupted him. Le goût de la bière tipped the scale.
I took a sharp right turn from France to Switzerland when Jérôme Rebetez of Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes asked me to help pick the blend of barrel aged beer that will become the next Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien.
We had to taste 28 different barrels of beer and take detailed notes on each one. It’s the first time I’ve spit out beer- but considering the volume, we had to. Unlike wine, when evaluating beer one generally swallows because some bitterness is only detected in the back of the throat.
Next Jérôme considered the final balance and character he was looking for. He wrote up the recipe and I took the portions from the barrels to make a sample batch which we then tweaked to arrive at the final amazing result. Try it for yourself in the US soon!
Wow. That’s what I kept saying beer after beer after beer. (Les échillons!) This young man, brewer at itty-bitty Brasserie du Mont Salève on the edge of Switzerland, has mastered hops.
In Michael’s hallway of a brewery, the bags of different hops take up a whole wall of shelf space. I thought he was just storing them until I tried the “black bitter”.
To call it a bitter, even an ESB, is a reach. Side-by-side with any American IPA, I’d rather finish this one. The hop maestro isn’t out to just up the IBUs- he orchestrates them. Another example? Mademoiselle IPA is both elegant and commanding. (As in, now you must have another…)
The man behind the beer there is Didier. About 45 minutes from Brasserie du Mont Salève is Au Bon Coin- worth the drive. And the plane ticket! Abbaye de St. Bon Chien au fût, and a beer list to make Dan Lanigan and Max Toste jealous.
Didier carries all the BFM beers (including some special off-menu bottles) and all the Mont Salève beers (au fût, aussi) just for starters. And you get to wake up in the beautiful village of Nernier!
Thanks to Stéphane Bogaert of Page 24, I learned that Julie Michard and her father have a brewpub and production facility in central France. The pub is right on the central circle of Limoges, an ideal location for watching the world walk by.
The brune was my favorite of those on tap, but the whiskey is what I shelled out euros to take home. I have a reputation to protect for bringing the can’t-get-it-here bottles to my friend’s annual whiskey tasting. A French single malt? Ding ding!
Tired of sitting at a desk all year and think working on a farm, a brewery, a winery- some kind of hands-on international experience might be fantastic? Allow me to introduce you to Helpx.
Steve Skews from Le Brewery in Normandy told me this site keeps his brewery going. He provides room and board, and people come from all over the world to provide labor. Brilliant! All ages participate- he had a woman in her 60s come and transform the gardens; a young Texan revitalized the website, an Australian couple did something else. I know I’ll be looking into this!
These photos are of the Secret Knight, one of Steve’s pubs in Normandy. And Steve himself, with his genius right hand Christine. They are never not smiling, so in the picture they are about to burst out laughing. She won, by the way.