Scott’s been on a Christmas Ale kick recently, reviewing several hearty Belgian Ales for The Brew Club. Well while Scott was enjoying his Belgian Christmas Ales, I was trying a couple of French brews. This can be tricky, as my favourite beer ‘Jenlain‘ is French, but then so too is Colomba Wheat Beer – the only brew that, thus far, I’ve given a rating of zero stars!
Let me explain… in early December a few friends and I took a day trip to France, in what used to be known as a ‘booze cruise’. The exorbitant duty placed on beers in the UK used to make it cost effective to take a day trip on the ferries (or through the Channel Tunnel) to stock up on beers in the coastal town of Calais in northern France. Indeed several large drink warehouses opened on the outskirts of Calais to supply the day trippers.
These days the exchange rate between the Pound and the Euro is such that day trips are can no longer be justified purely on the grounds of saving money, but it’s still a worthwhile trip if you’re interested in unusual beers and quality foodstuffs – I’ve been to supermarkets in France where the cheese department is larger than some British supermarkets.
One of the breweries to benefit from the ‘booze cruise’ phenomenon was the brewery in the town of Saint Omer, about 25 miles south east of Calais. The ‘Brasserie Saint Omer‘ was founded back in 1866 and while it might have a proud tradition of brewing (I have my doubts) these days it is known as a brewer of cheap lager sold in multi-packs of 25cl bottles.
Having said that, the brewery knocks out over 600 million bottles of the stuff each year, so clearly there’s a market for it!
While I would normally avoid the Saint Omer brews, there were a couple that caught my eye this time – the Saint Omer Brewery’s Christmas offering and, somewhat intriguingly a ‘Biere D’Abbaye’.
Biere Noel – Brasserie St Omer
I had reasonably high hopes of this beer, I’ve had some excellent Christmas Beers from France, Belgium and Luxembourg in the past so clearly there’s a Christmas Beer tradition, and this being brewed to reasonable 5.9% ABV led me to expect something special.
What a disappointment!
Biere Noel pours light and fizzy, a reasonably rewarding dark amber colour, and coffee coloured head, but that’s about it.
There’s no hint of dark roasted malts, no real flavour, body or substance and not much in the way of flavour.
This brew claims to be in the style of a dark Belgian Ale… it isn’t. Everything about this screams that it’s a very average supermarket lager, beefed up to its 5.9% strength and then coloured with caramel to give it its dark colour.
I’ll give this one star – if only to encourage myself to drink the remaining bottles in the six pack!
‘Biere D’Abbaye’ – Brasserie St Omer
The brewery describes this, somewhat confusingly, as a ‘Biere de Garde’, although its labelling is clearly designed to evoke an Abbey style beer.
Abbey Style beers, you might recall, were designed by big brewers in the style of the true ‘Trappist’ brews that are only brewed in half a dozen monasteries in Belgium and Holland. Leffe is a prime example of an Abbey Beer.
Bieres de Garde are literally ‘beers for keeping’ brewed in spring to be laid down – usually in champagne style bottles – until the following winter.
Both Abbey Beers and Bieres de Garde are top fermented ales.
This ‘Bier D’Abbaye’ is only available in 500ml cans, brewed to 6.2% ABV, and brewed (the labelling would have us believe) in Belgium under the auspices of the “Premontres de Tongerlo Abbey’ in Belgium. An Abbey (as far as I can make out) that has no brewing heritage whatsoever – they might just as easily have bought a religious qualification from the back of Rolling Stone magazine!
The beer pours amber, with a reasonably full, white head. It’s slow to disperse, leaving quite a bit of lacing. The nose is candy sugar and a hint of spice. The flavour is much the same, candy sugar giving hints of the underlying strength but a very light, lagery mouth feel. Again my suspicion is that this is little more than a strong lager in disguise.
After long consideration, I’d give this two stars. It’s drinkable, and not unpleasant, but not something I’d take to a friend’s house.