For the first episode of our weekly series, François-Xavier D’Hollander, brewer at One Beer Later, will be talking about the 6 beers that made him appreciate craft and open up a brewery. So hop on your motorbikes, and enjoy a journey through time, riding down country lanes in the north of France, lounging on the beach with a Spanish beer, and having a rendez-vous with some local punks.
Brasserie Saint Sylvestre – 3 Monts
For you, I will skip the non alcoholic beers I had each Sunday evening from age 11 with my family, watching the Benny Hill Show. So, no words about Tourtel Blonde and Buckler Sans Alcool. My first fond souvenir is of 3 Monts by Brasserie Saint Sylvestre. This ‘bière de garde’ (literally, ‘beer for keeping’) is from my home region, the north of France. Traditionally, this style of beer was brewed by local brewers, often in farmhouses, in the colder months to avoid problems with unstable yeast, and it could be stored and drunk later in the year. Trois Monts is a strong ale (8.5% ABV) and particularly pale for this strength. Except for a well-developed bitterness (for the 90’s), the alcohol wasn’t particularly perceptible. The bottle came with a cork and a staple. So you need a corkscrew to open it, or strong teeth (undocumented opening method – not recommended). Many years later when I was a maltster, I was lucky enough to supply Brasserie Saint Sylvestre with our malts. The instructions given were to produce the palest spring malt we could. We executed the orders scrupulously because we had great respect for this family of brewers (I learned later that the grandmother was one of the shareholders of our centennial maltings). It was good for me that 3 Monts became my favourite Sunday evening beer when I was of an age to drink real beer.
Brasserie Meteor – Meteor Pils
Meteor is the only brewery in France to get approval from the Czech government to use ‘Pils’ in its name, back in 1927. This was because it was a real Pilsner – a hoppy pale lager made with Saaz hops, with a dryness owing to the use of corn grits. The Haag family brews it near Strasbourg, with a recipe handed down from generation to generation. In the 90’s, it was the only unpasteurized beer being distributed on a national level, with its marvelous box with green hop bushels boasting a shelf life of 6 months. When I later worked at the brewery (as an actual employee this time), I was happy to get this very refreshing beer straight from the bottling lines, especially when the room temperature exceeded 35°C. At that time, nothing was prohibited in family breweries. Some older brewers told me that the previous generation used to drink a case of 12 large bottles per shift!
BrewDog – Hardcore IPA
BrewDog Hardcore IPA is probably the best beer in their portfolio. For a while, this strong IPA made me think that BrewDog was a fantastic brewery. I have waivered on this point since, but this beer certainly was a revelation for me. Up to that point, I had been a homebrewer, thinking that dry hopping was a vain hope! From then on, I focused more on American hops and what I took the most delight in was drinking IPA beers. I’m sad that BrewDog doesn’t brew it anymore. As brewers, we must always see the glass half full, and the beers from our memory are always better than the latest commercial brew.
Brasserie Parisis – Parisis Blonde
This French Parisian brewery belongs to someone I met through work. And since he is a brewer, we became friends – this is the craft logic, isn’t it? With his brews, I discovered Simcoe and Citra hops, and I became a big fan of these US varieties. This was around the time my interest in dry-hopping moved from pipe-dream, through aspiration into experimentation, and I started to dry hop my beers. Doing the groundwork for what would one day be One Beer Later, I visited Parisis’ top-notch brewhouse (latest model from Kaspar Schultz, no less). When I later came to build my own brewery, we had a budget about 100 times lower, so we made a brewhouse in the way the Germans were doing… one century ago. Brewing is tradition, after all!
Spanish craft beers
Now, can I cheat on the rules a bit? The Spanish craft beer scene is underrated or at least not well known. On my shortlist, the fabulous ones are: Edge Brewing, Barcelona Beer Company, La Quince, Basqueland Brewing Project, La Pirata, Bidassoa, Naparbier. They are still difficult to buy in Romania (better to look in Bulgaria). Maybe some good Samaritans will read this – here’s hoping. I was lucky enough to live in the Basque country in France and to meet a guy named Franck who buys these beers directly from the breweries. Next to the Sapindus forest and not far from the isolated sandy beaches, Franck was the dealer (just beer, nothing illegal!) of the surfers, serving them the latest Spanish brews. People wore flip-flops and Bermuda shorts in January. Why did I move from there? By the way, in the village (Seignosse) where I was living, there are 5 craft breweries. Again, why did I move from there?
Ground Zero – Imperial Fuck
Last but not least: Ground Zero is one of the oldest craft breweries in Romania. With Clinica de Bere, they have done a lot to raise the profile of craft beers in the country. There are always some Imperial Fuck bottles in any of my orders from Berero. This strong IPA has something different and unique. It’s a very well-balanced beer with the ability to hide its alcoholic concentration. Now, the Imperial Fuck has become my Sunday evening beer because I’m old enough to live up to its name – provided my wife doesn’t have a headache!