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Bière de Manger

Most people don’t think of France as a place for great beer, but there are several very fine, world-class small — tiny really — breweries in Northeastern France, not coincidently near the border of Belgium. Back in the mid-1800s this region of the world was home to 2,000 breweries. By the advent of the first World War it was half that, but during the German occupation their equipment was dismantled and sent back to the Fatherland. Between the two wars after after it, things stayed pretty much the same and today only around 25 breweries remain in the region.

So last night’s dinner themed “The Beers of France” may not have been as big a draw as some of the Beer Chef’s other beer dinners, but that a shame because the people who stayed away out of ignorance or prejudice missed a wonderful dinner and some fabulous beers.

Our salad course: composed salad of wild mushrooms, summer vegetables, duck ham and watercress.

All of the beers were courtesy of Shelton Brothers, a beer importer who brings in some of the finest beers from all over the world to the U.S. Here’s the Beer Chef, Bruce Paton, with Dan Shelton.

Since I believe these beers do deserve to better known, here’s some more information about the French beers that were part of the beer dinner. Seek them out and try them for yourself.


St. Droun French Abbey Ale

From the Brasseurs Duyck, founded in 1922, whose brand Jenlain is probably better known, St. Druon was re-named (the original name was Sebourg) in 2000 “as a tribute to Saint Druon and the little church in Sebourg, the next village to Jenlain. Druon, a homeless but pious orphan, wandered the roads until he settled in the village, and is still honoured and revered by pilgrims each year.” It’s been run by the same family for four generations.

From Shelton Brothers website:

Jenlain is the second largest independent brewery in France, and by far the largest one making bière de garde – France’s only original, traditional beer style. Jenlain is credited with reviving the style, and encouraging countless smaller bière de garde breweries in Northern France.

It’s a 6.0% abv Bière de Garde that uses a distinctive yeast that different from Duyuck’s other beers. it’s a very clean, refreshing beer and worked well with the diverse hors d’oeuvres.

The other beer we had with our appetizers was one of only two beer at the dinner that I’d had before, the Thiriez Extra. It’s a surprisingly hoppy beer, though not in a west coast sort of way. In France, the beer is known as “Les Frères de la Bière,” which means “The Friends of Beer.” It’s a collaboration of sorts between brewers in England, France, and Belgium. The beer uses an relatively unknown English hop called “Brambling Cross.” It’s really something of a session beer at 4.5% abv.

The second beer from Thiriez was their Blonde, which is a little spicier than the Extra in the way of a saison, and a little stronger, too, at 6.0%. It was paired with our first course, sea scallops in fennel nage.

From Shelton Brothers website:

Daniel Thiriez’s rustic little brick-and-beam brewery graces the village of Esquelbecq, plunk in the middle of the rolling farm country of French Flanders. With a brewing degree from a Belgian university, and decidedly ‘Belgian-oriented,’ Monsieur Thiriez makes ales with an earthy, slightly wild character that recalls the early days of farmhouse brewing, before there was a border between France and Belgium.

Thiriez Extra and Blonde

La Choulette Le Sans Cullottes and Ambree

The “no pants” beer, which is what “sans cullottes” refers to was the other beer of the evening I’d had before, and it’s a great Bière de Garde style beer. It’s 7.0% abv and quite effervescent, like a good champagne. This wonderful beer was paired with a composed salad of wild mushrooms, summer vegetables, duck ham and watercress.

From Shelton Brothers website:

La Choulette is a charming farmhouse brewery whose beers are classics of this French style. The brewery dates back to 1885. Alain and Martine Dhaussy bought it in the 1970’s and revived traditional brewing there. This, the brewery’s masterpiece, proudly pays homage to Les Sans Culottes – the “trouserless” craftsmen who could not afford uniforms but unflinchingly did the handiwork of the French Revolution. A number of brewers were included in their ranks.

The other beer from La Choulette was their Ambree, a slightly stronger Bière de Garde at 8.0% with a deeper amber color. I found it quite sweet, which nicely cut through the heavy meat course, loin of rabbit with bone marrow ravioli and onion apple gratin.

The last beer, Garvroche, is from St. Sylvstre, who is better known for their 3 Monts. The Gavroche is a bottle-conditioned amber ale, and at 8.5% was the strongest beer of the evening. The name comes from one of the characters in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, the generous and rebellious Paris urchin. It was divine with our dessert of poached pear with flan of fromage explorateur.

From Shelton Brothers website:

Serge Ricour is one of those guys – probably a genius, but it takes one to know one, and we’re not really sure we can meet that standard – who just produces fantastic beer, but doesn’t seem to know it himself. The Brasserie Ricour, or Brasserie St-Sylvestre (you use either one and everyone in town knows what you’re talking about) makes, arguably, the best beer of France: 3 Monts. We Shelton Brothers would probably argue with that, since we’ve found so many nice beers in France and brought them to the U.S. for your inspection, but you can’t really argue with the proposition that 3 Monts is, at least, one of the very best beers of France.

St. Sylvestre Gavroche


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