"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.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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