La Cave à Bulles is a small specialist beer shop on Rue Quincampoix in Paris, not far from the Pompidou centre. It specialises in French beer and you could say it’s a temple to the stuff, although they do have a smattering of beer from the rest of the world (when we visited they had some Belgian stuff, plus a few from Mikkeller and Stillwater amongst others).
Our first visit was on a Friday evening, as we were transitioning between Hall’s Beer Tavern and Au Trappiste, so we just popped in for a quick look to scope the place out. We ended up talking to Simon the proprietor and on his advice ditched a few pubs that we were going to visit and ended up buying some tickets to a beer festival on a boat, as you do…
We went back again on the Saturday, mainly so I could buy a box of beer to bring back home, but also because they were holding a meet the brewer with Brasserie du Mont Salève, but more on them later. Simon seems to run a flat pricing structure on his French beer selection, 33cl bottles were all €3 regardless of strength, similarly all 50cl and 75cl bottles were at flat prices. Since I had a spare €30, it meant I could pick up ten 33cl bottles, I had selected five, I asked Simon to select me another five that I shouldn’t miss. Here’s my thoughts on each of the beers I bought:
La Brasserie de Fleurac – Le Triple Brune IPA, 8%, 330ml
The cap nearly exploded off the bottle as I opened it and due to the ridiculous level of carbonation, it took three glasses to get the whole bottle in. I even poured it from glass to glass a couple of times to try and knock a bit of carbonation out of it. It poured a darkish brown, like a best bitter and had an almost vinous edge to the nose, otherwise there wasn’t much going on. I can’t really say much about the taste, due to the carbonation issues, but it had a nice bitterness, some solid brown malt character. I imagine it would be lovely if properly carbonated.
Brasserie Thiriez – Etoile du Nord, 5.5%, 330ml
Poured a luscious golden colour, with a white fluffy head. The head didn’t last very long and dropped to ring round the edge fairly quickly. The nose had a faint orangey marmalade note to it, it was also quite fresh, but that was it. It had a good mouth feel, with smashing up front bitterness. The bitterness eased off a bit as it swept everything before it in a wave of wonderful subtle citrus and marmalade notes. The after taste was a lovely bitter tingle and seemed to last an absolute age. I’d quite happily drink this till the cows came home, a must buy beer if you see it.
Brasserie Thiriez – La Nocturne, 6.5%, 330ml
Poured a really dark brown, so it looked black in the glass. The tan coloured head wasn’t easy to form and was one of those lively things that appeared and then promptly disappeared. I struggled to get much on the nose, probably due to the shape of the glass, but there did seem to be some treacle notes and a general dark beer type thing. In the mouth it was nice and full bodied with some cracking smooth chocolate and coffee notes. The after taste was smooth, rich, strong and lingering, with the coffee notes providing a lovely roasted bitterness that melded with the chocolate. This bottle was superb, much better than the taste we had at the beer festival on the boat.
Brasserie des Vignes – La Delinquante, 7%, 330ml
Once the bottle was opened, foam started to rise up the neck and nearly spilled out out the top. During the pour, I could see lots of little bits of sediment streaming into the glass, so was a bit concerned about off flavours. I needn’t have worried about off flavours though, because the beer was infected and totally undrinkable. The moment I stuck my nose into the glass I could tell something was really not right and it only took the smallest of sips to confirm it. Shame…
Brasserie du Mont Salève – Blanche, 5%, 330ml
Poured a hazy yellow, almost like light dehydrated wee. A loose white head was easily formed and dropped back to pretty much nothing quite quickly. The nose was chock full, of subtle ripe mango, with the merest hint of cat wee, yes, this beer has Citra hops in it. It had a good body and was lively in the mouth, with quite a bit of the liquid turning to bubbles. The bitterness was quite high for this style of beer and coated the mouth nicely with ripe tropical flavours. The after taste was really drying, but it also had a nasty green apple flavour that I used to get in my homebrew. Possibly a bad bottle as it tasted lovely at the met the brewer event, when it was poured from a 500ml bottle.
Brasserie du Mont Salève – Blonde, 5%, 330ml
Poured a lovely golden straw colour, with a fluffy white head. The head dropped quite quickly to a ring around the edge of the glass. The nose had subtle pineapple notes with a hint of mandarin round the edges. I had to consult with my wife to make sure it was actually pineapple I was smelling. In the mouth it felt a touch on the thin side, which wasn’t helped by the subtlety of the flavours. The bitterness rolled down the tongue, and while it wasn’t massive, it was enough to pretty much swamp the subtle flavours. It was OK, but nothing spectacular.
Brasserie du Mont Salève – Amiral Benson Nelson Sauvin IPA, 5%, 330ml
The cap came off with quite a loud phzzzt and it wasn’t long before the foam started to form pretty quickly up the neck of the bottle. It did foam quite a bit when it hit the glass to and brought a load of the yeast in with it, which was disappointing. It sat a hazy deep amber in the glass, with a thick white finger of head on top. The head was just practically static, sitting there almost unmoving and taking an age to drop. It smelt lovely with subtle juicy tropical notes. It was a bit rough in the mouth and had a bit too much yeast character, which was really annoying, as otherwise, it was a lovely beer. It had good body, a nice fruity bitterness that only Nelson Sauvin can bring and a lovely lingering bitter tropical fruit after taste. This was the one I liked the best at the met the brewer tasting.
Brasserie des Garrigues – La Frappadingue, 7.5%, 330ml
Poured an ever so slightly hazy amber colour, with a thick white head. The head dropped to a good half finger covering fairly quickly and lasted down the glass. It smelt really quite nice, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what tropical fruit was dominant. Initially it was quite fizzy in the mouth, but this subdued the longer it sat in the glass. Once the bubbles had settled down, there was a nice malty backbone that was a solid foundation for a hop assault. It wasn’t massively bitter, but it was bitter enough to spike through the malt and sweep everything else before it as it laid down a beautiful bitter fruity after taste. This was a really, really nice beer and on this tasting, I wish I’d bought more.
Brasserie St Rieul – Biere de Noel sur lie, 8%, 330ml
Poured a deep mahogany brown with a smallish creamy light tan coloured head. The head didn’t last very long and dropped to a very patchy covering fairly quickly. It smelt slightly of stewed fruit, plums or something like that, with just a hint of green apple at the edges. There was also the notion of spices on the nose, but nothing discernible, I could tell it was a spiced beer, but I couldn’t tell you what spices. It felt quite lively in the mouth, with a certain amount of bubbling. It was full bodied, with massive malty flavours all the way through, again mainly of the rich stewed fruit variety. Although the spices were on the subtle side, you knew there were there and they seemed to build the further down the glass I got. I think I would have tired of the spices if this had been a 50cl bottle, so just the right size for this kind of beer.
Brasserie du Pays Flamand – La Bracine Triple, 9%, 330ml
The cap popped off with quite a phzzzt and it was very lively during the pour, with a huge rocky white head. The head dropped to a good covering after a while and eventually dropped to a patchy covering. It looked like a triple, all light amber / straw coloured, with that yeasty slightly sweet nose that they have. Initially it was extremely lively in he mouth and it really just turned to bubbles, even after leaving it for half an hour it was still really lively. It wasn’t as full in the mouth as you’d maybe think a 9% beer should be, but it had quite a bit of fusel alcohol floating around the mouth, so it certainly felt strong. I’m not a fan of this kind of beer to be honest, to me it tasted like most other triples, which is probably heresy to some people, but there you go…
One of the benefits of visiting Paris on the Eurostar, is you can take bottles back with you, without having to wrap them up to survive a nuclear war. If I’m ever in Paris again, I’ll be heading straight to La Cave à Bulles with a stack of money and a trolley, as I’ll be buying more than one box of beer this time…