Origin: Courpalay, Seine-et-Marne, France
Beer sellers: Cave à bulles.
An alternative version of this piece appears in the book 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die.
Rarely can beer claim a goût de terroir of the sort boasted of in the upper echelons of the wine industry, where grapes are grown, juiced and fermented and the results bottled all on the same estate. Although some brewers make a virtue of using local ingredients, very few offer finished products with such a direct connection to their local soil as Hugues and Geneviève Rabourdin.
Their Gaillon farm is at Courpalay in the Seine-et-Marne department of the Île-de-France region, about an hour east of Paris, in the heart of the old province of Brie. The area is famous, of course, for its soft rinded cheese, but it’s also known as Paris’s grain silo: farm brewing was once common, but proved less tenacious here in the 20th century than in more northerly parts of France. Cereals had been the Rabourdins’ business for over twenty years before they saw the opportunity to restore a local craft and create a product with a unique provenance by, in their words, “adding the rhythms of brewing naturally to the rhythms of sowing and reaping”. The beers can be sampled in the farm’s stables.
The Ambrée, one of Hugues’ first recipes when the brewery launched in 2001, is made from the farm’s own malted barley, with only hops and no spicing. Brewing takes place in one of the barns, with an 8-10 day warm fermentation at 24°C using Belgian ale yeast, several weeks of lagering in tanks at 0°C then at least four weeks of secondary fermentation in no-nonsense 750ml Bordeaux-style bottles.
The result is a reddish-amber beer with some white head and a smoky aroma with notes of burnt rubber, cheese, barley sugar and herb liqueur. An intense smoky, roasty, biscuity palate has sweetish malt with an orange tang and more of that slight burnt rubber flavour. The sweetish grainy finish is mild on hops but with a chewy dry roast bite.
Overall this is a big, honest and rustic delight that rewards careful sipping. It’s enjoyed considerable acclaim in a country that values regional food and drink highly, twice winning gold medals at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris. And the perfect accompaniment? Surely a decent, mature Brie de Melun.
For more reviews like this see the book 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die, published May 2010 by Cassell Illustrated.
Read more about this beer at ratebeer.com: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/gaillon-biere-de-brie-ambree/39523/