27 February 2017

Piled high and sold cheap

Three large format bottles of French beer for under a tenner? Yes please! I spotted this lot stacked up by the tills in Lidl and figured they'd be worth a go. Two are badged as coming from "Abbaye de Vauclair" which I'm sure isn't a real thing, and research tells me they're actually brewed at that bastion of cheap French beer Gayant, better known for La Goudale.

Abbaye de Vauclair Bière Blanche is where I started. Appearances are on the money for a standard witbier: 4.5% ABV and a cloudy shade of yellow with just a slight greenish hint to it. The aroma is surprisingly full-on, all fresh citrus peel, green herbs plus a slight lactic sourness. The texture is light and refreshing; effervescent without being fizzy. All the fruit promised by the aroma, and more, is delivered in the flavour. There's a very distinct juiciness giving the drinker lime, lemon and even some more exotic mango or pineapple. This is balanced by a peppery incense spice and given a quick finish. Though far from subtle, this is a superb beer, avoiding the harsh dryness that often plagues cheap witbier without swinging out the other side into cloying sweetness. Though consumed on a dismal February afternoon it sparked happy thoughts of summer.

I followed the blue one with the yellow one: Abbaye de Vauclair Blonde, which bears the unsettling legend "blonde beer with caramel flavouring". It's 6.5% ABV and a deep honey amber colour. A dry husky, musty grain character is all the aroma has to say while the flavour is equally uncomplicated. There's a slight sugary stickiness, though nothing that suggests added caramel to me. I was expecting a whack of butterscotch or something, but it's too clean for that sort of nonsense. A rising waxy bitterness in the finish adds one extra dimension, but beyond that and the basic malt and sugar it's a very plain and uninspiring affair, Belgian-style blonde ale on a by-the-numbers basis. There are certainly none of the distinguishing high notes found in the Blanche.

We move away from the Abbaye desmense for the third beer, the starkly-labelled Duc De Coeur French Strong Pale Ale, a brand that Lidl usually only uses for its ciders. Strong indeed at 7% ABV and the clear amber of rocket-fuel tramps' brew. It smells a bit like sickly super-strong lager as well: there's certainly nothing suggesting pale ale in the aroma. The flavour passes that test but only just. There's a fruit character to it, artificial like chew sweets, and a perfumed resinous bitterness, but it's all very low key. The main feature is a sweet malt stickiness and an unpleasant grain-sack mustiness. You need to be informed in advance and be flexible in your thinking to really appreciate this as a pale ale. Belgian-style blonde or wonky bock are much more what it says to me. Either way, I'm not impressed.

So the Blanche, the cheapest of the set, is the winner of this lot. Stock up!


  1. The only one of these we've tried is the one you didn't -- the Bière de Garde, 'Ch'Nord'. We thought it was pretty good, especially for the price, and especially if we end up re-using the bottle for home-brew. Will look out for the Wit.