It's odd, isn't it, that when you go on holiday, you gripe about certain things. The first time I went to the United States, I drove my American friends mad if we went to a bar that didn't have decent beer, although that didn't stop me drinking myself stupid(er) on Rolling Rock one night. That showed 'em.
So when my better half and I took off for 10 days in Brittany, we were alerted to the presence of a real ale, Coreff, brewed in Morlaix. Sure enough, we got to l'Aber Wrach, the first bar we walked into had a big ceramic handpump on it. We ordered some. We drank it. It was good, sweetish, a bit thick, and quite strong. "Fancy", I thought, "real ale in France. Wonders will never cease". They also did a stout, which was very acceptable, and a couple of bottled versions, which were a touch wild and lactically sour for my tastes, but a welcome diversion nonetheless. And while I felt felt a bit like a Brit abroad, revelling in the good fortune of finding a local version of Marmite or a good pork pie, I didn't care. I'm on holiday, and loving it. Excellent chaps, these Bretons, and they make beer too!
Little did I know, I was merely scratching the surface.
A few days later, we were in the wonderfully preserved medieaval village of Locronan, lapping up the Coreff, and taking in a few sights, when I was completely floored by a beer shop. Now, if you're lucky enough to have visited my workplace, you'll know that I spend a lot of time in the company of a lot of beer. I revel in my insouciance in the face of others astonishment. I enjoy letting people goggle for a bit before stepping in to help them. So I was ill-prepared to be floored by a Locronan's beer shop
It wasn't the range that did it - they only have 75 beers. But it was 75 beers that I'd never heard of, let alone tried. And they were housed in the most astonishing old building, beautiful exposed beams and stonework, with sunlight flooding in through the skylights. It was a temple to beer, and the geometric beauty of it left me gaping, shaking my head, and struggling to come to terms with what I was looking at. Needless to say, I bought as much as I could sensibly transport, which sadly was a trifling dozen bottles, half of which I've now drunk.
When I say "drunk", of course I mean "tasted". Writing them up as installments of "Tasting the Pith" was never the intention, as I try to use this for beers and other drinks that are currently in circulation, but to talk generally about them, they are all excellent artisanal beers, very flavourful, with more bias towards a malty sweetness than their Belgian counterparts. From pale wheat beers to torrefied malty ales, they all seem to be of a good quality, unfiltered and (I would guess) unpasteurised. Lacking the spicing of their Belgian cousins, they have a distinctive, cohesive style, although there is obviously a lot of variation within this style. Pleasingly, they start from the lower end of the alcohol range, and even the 4% brews are packed with flavour.
Sadly, as my collection dwindles, I only have a couple of photos with which to remember this wonderful place. But I can heartily recommend a detour to a wonderful shop in a fantastic fairy-tale setting.
Maison des Bieres Bretonnes, Place de l'Eglise, Locronan.
Phone 02 98 51 81 61