Monday, December 3, 2012

Chope shop

Rue de Boeuf is little more than an alley running through Lyon's old town, packed with antique shops, artisans and wine cellars. La Chope de Lug at number 9 is really more an alcove than a proper shop. Along one wall of of the tiny narrow premises is a set of shelves with the only product on sale: French craft beer. Dozens of breweries are represented, each with four or five beers, spanning a generous range of styles. And I knew none of them. As I was keeping the friendly proprietor from closing up for the night, and had a train to catch myself, I let him make a few recommendations and chose a couple of randomers myself.

He was especially keen for me to try Supernova, a collaboration between Brasserie de la Pleine Lune in Chabeuil, just south of Lyon, and Brasserie du Pays Flamand situated, as the name suggests, in the far north-east of the country in Blaringhem, near the Belgian border. It's 6.2% ABV and the brewers have declined to give it a style designation.

It presents as a quite beautiful dark amber ale, loaded with fizz and quite eager to escape the bottle on opening. Thankfully a significant viscosity holds it back enough to get it poured, the busy carbonation forming a massive loose-bubbled head. From this I get a distinct aroma of Duvelesque Belgian yeast spice, with some interesting orange candy hop notes too. The first thing that comes through on tasting is its density: an intense and slightly unpleasant stickiness, not helped at all by all the gas. Once you're past this it's much better, however: the hopping has left it mostly reminiscent of the better English bitters and IPAs, with an assertive pithy bitterness tempered by lighter jasmine notes. It occasionally shades into the peach and nectarine zone of American pale ale. The Belgian spicing is still present, getting more pronounced as we reach the bottom of the bottle. The heavy malt combines with the other flavours to give it a finish reminding me of chocolate lime sweets. All said, it's a wonderful amalgam of characteristics drawn from different brewing traditions and made to work in harmony.

I couldn't resist grabbing a French IPA while I could, and Brasserie du Mont Salève had two in La Chope de Lug, resplendent in their everso smart art deco labels. Mademoiselle Aramis was the one recommended to me by Monsieur Le Patron. Though only .2% ABV lighter than the Supernova it's a much more softly-spoken affair, pouring a cloudy orange with gentle carbonation and a subtle marmalade aroma. Despite the haze, the yeast doesn't really interfere with the hopping, and what comes through is mild grapefruit and mandarin with just a hint of gunpowder spice behind it.

Having been exploring hoppy Belgian beer of late it's interesting to see a French take on it. These breweries are working in more or less the same way as the progressive Belgians, but seem better able to keep the yeast flavours from smothering the hops. Happy days for French beer fans, especially those wandering the back streets of Lyon.

More from La Chope de Lug's range in due course, and you can read about the Mont Salève beers I met at September's Borefts Beer Festival here.

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