Saturday, 3 January 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 10

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Ten
Brasserie Lepers - La Chope 6.5%

Today's beer is one I've been meaning to have for a while, it's just that I haven't got around to opening it and I really should have.

When we were in Lille towards the end of the summer we had some excellent beer in a wonderful city that is often sadly overlooked as a destination on the 'Grand European Beer Tour' in which France doesn't really figure. If you haven't already, or should you wish to again you can find part one here, swiftly followed by part two here but I don't want to use this opportunity to relive my holiday, good though it was, but concentrate on the beer. Before that however, I thought I'd write a little about the beer history of our nearest neighbours in mainland Europe..

Unsurprisingly, prior to the industrialisation of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries beer production in France was quite localised. Like most European countries, France itself is a collection of different tribes united under a common flag. As rural populations declined with migration so did the number of breweries, however there were still over a thousand in existence at the turn of the twentieth century.

With the coming of the First and Second World Wars the destruction of the French countryside, disruption of rural life, the need for metal for munitions, and the loss of a significant proportion of the population of young men had a huge impact on brewing within the country. It has to be remembered that France was one of the main theatres of conflict and consequently suffered more than most in this respect.

As a result of this it was the larger breweries that were able to weather the storm and mass-produced pilsner-style lagers swept in to dominate the market much as they would do in the UK fifteen or so years later. Local beer styles did survive however, particularly in the North and West of the country, strangely those areas that were the main battlefield of Europe during the years 1914-1918, 1939-1945 including an extensive period of occupation. Both of these areas have strong links with the brewing traditions just across their borders in Belgium and Germany respectably which explains this to a large degree.

In recent years France has experienced something of a micro-brewery boom and one which has gone largely unnoticed in this country as we have tended to turn our attention to what has happened across the Atlantic rather than across the Channel. As we search for the 'Next Big Thing' in beer in the next few years it might be worth considering our Entente Cordiale allies, or at the very least make sure you keep half an eye on what they're up to.

Formerly called Brasserie d'Annoeullin, Brasserie Lepers have been brewing for over a century, having been founded in 1905. Situated just outside Lille in the town of La Chapelle-d'Armentieres brews a variety of beers that are either Biere de Garde or Belgian influenced which are both native styles when you consider that the brewery is in both northern France and Flanders.

La Chope is a special case however, as this Belgian ale was formerly brewed at Brasserie du Pays Flamand and was previously a slightly more restrained 5.5% abv, however when its stopped being produced it was kept alive by individuals calling themselves 'La Chope' in a sort of strange beer-transfer system, and is brewed for them by Brasserie Lepers. A beer with such a history deserves investigation, and now would be the right time to do so.

It pours a clear golden honey colour, its thin white head fading quickly to a light covering of bubbles resting on top. It has a definite honey and lemon aroma too, heavy on the honey, but there's also a hint of coriander and some white pepper too. Thin, but smooth and a little sticky over the tongue too a touch of peppery spice tickles the tip of the tongue before rich golden honey explodes like a throat lozenge powder keg, flooding the mouth with sweet gooey goodness. there's some peach and mango juice and muted lemon zest in the background before some white pepper and a little pithiness, dry it out and tidy it all up at the finish.

This is a delicious beer, and that big honey character is certainly not was I was expecting considering it is not one of the ingredients, but rather a combination of the malt, yeast and hops. I've had a few beers by this brewery before, notably the Lepers 8 Blonde and L'Angelus Ambree, and both were very much more blatantly Belgian influenced than this. I do have several more beers by different French breweries still to open, and I'm planning another trip for later in the year where I hope to discover more of the beer culture. If I find anything interesting you can be sure that I'll be telling you all about it so watch this space.

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