This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Country #36: France

Beer: Belzebuth

Brewery: Brasserie Grain d’Orge, Ronchin, France

ABV: 13.0% (!!)

Given the price, the style, the ABV, and the Frenchness, I thought this beer deserved the fancy glass.
France’s gustatory honors are many. It is home to some of the world’s best wine, best cheese, and (arguably) its best cuisine, mostly because everything is sautéed in butter. You can say a lot of snarky things about French people and French culture, but one thing you can’t say is that they are cavalier about what they eat and drink. Sure, they eat snails, but have you tried them? Good lord, those are some tasty crawling boogers!

Methinks these taste better than the things that are constantly crawling around my front walkway.
One thing France is not known for is beer. The reasons behind this are mostly geographic. Barley and hops grow well in the wet, cool climate of northern France, and beer is indeed the preferred beverage in the departments along the Belgian border. But when you think of France and alcoholic beverages, you think of wine, and for good reason. The climate and soil of the southern 90% of the country is not only perfect for growing grapes, it’s also variegated enough to result in many different varieties of grapes. French places like Bordeaux and Burgundy are synonymous with the grapes grown there, and many French wine varieties are, by law, exclusively French: for instance, you can’t call your sparkling white wine “champagne” unless it was made from grapes grown in a particular region in France. French take their terroir very seriously, which makes sense, because they invented the word and the idea behind it.

The Booze Belts of Europe. Brasserie Grain d'Orge is in the beer part of France.
When the French do drink beer, it’s usually the fizzy yellow stuff, like Kronenbourg. But if I’m going to drink a French beer, I’m going to choose something interesting. And so I found myself in the beer aisle staring at something called Belzebuth (Beelzebub), with an artsy looking devil on the label and its wine-like ABV of 13 percent prominently advertised. The beer store had a bottle put aside for me. For me! FOR ME!

13 percent is pretty evil, alright. But way to make Satan himself look like a Teletubby, France.
I did a little research before imbibing, and found that the brewery that makes the stuff, Brasserie Grain d’Orge, translates to Barleycorn Brewery: off to a good start. I also found out that the brewery is in far northeastern France, a baguette’s throw from the Belgian border, which is a good place to be from if you’re a French beer. And so I drank, excitedly, and I was… underwhelmed. It had a nice enough flavor, like a well-executed Belgian strong ale, but the flavor of the alcohol was stronger than it needed to be, and it overpowered the finer flavors that would otherwise be present from the yeast. It seems to me that the high alcohol content is a bit of a gimmick. If you’re going to drink to get drunk, your $5 (that’s what a single bottle set me back) can be more efficiently spent, and if you’re going to drink to enjoy the flavor of delicious Belgian-style beer, you can find hundreds of fantastic examples that will still pack a punch without the boozy overtones. I'd still recommend it, because it was definitely different from anything else I'd ever had. It just wasn't monde-shattering.

Some grain d'orges, or barleycorns.