Words - Matthew Curtis, Photos - Dianne Tanner
Beer is people. That's probably one of the most important things that was ever said to me in my short career as a beer writer. I used to work in a really cool guitar shop in the basement of the Virgin Megastore on the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. It was there that I met my friend Greg who used to work there too. It was 2007, an important year in the history of British beer but not to me and Greg. Back then the only conversation we'd have about beer was where we were going to go and get smashed after work which almost always inevitably the Black Horse, a Nicholson's pub on nearby Rathbone Place. You could always tell it was nearly payday when we started venturing just a few doors further to the Bricklayers Arms, a Sam Smith's pub for two pound pints of Alpine Lager.
Sadly the company that owned that shop went into administration a year later and Greg and I were eventually made redundant before either of us had really begun our respective beer journeys. Fast forward another six years and we've both experienced our beer epiphanies but in entirely different ways. For me it was visiting Colorado and tasting beers so good they gave me that extra push into obsession. Greg instead turned to all grain homebrewing, something he finds quite addictive having gone as far as setting up his own kegerator for pouring draught beer at home.
Whilst holidaying in the Alpine resort of Chamonix Greg grew quite fond of La Rousse a red ale from Brasserie Du Mont Blanc who are based in the town of Chambéry on the edge of the French Alps. It became a preferred après-ski tipple of his to the point that he messaged me from Chamonix asking if I had heard of the brewery. I hadn't, by my own admission my knowledge of French beer is limited to say the least and so I asked if he could smuggle me a bottle back as I was keen to taste it. I stashed the bottle away and forgot about it for a few weeks eventually digging it out in a routine check of my beer cupboard. It was mid-Sunday afternoon and the Sun was shining, I hadn't just finished an intensive session on the slopes but I had just done some pretty intensive vacuum cleaning so the time felt right and I cracked the top.
The first thing that struck me about this beer was how very red it was. I mean it was really, really red and as bright and candescent as a ruby. The rocky brown head was a surprisingly dark shade of beige and produced faint aromas of caramel and toffee. A brewer once told me that the only malting company that produces a malt that will give you that brilliant red flourish is Germany's Weyermann. I honestly couldn't tell you if that was true but this crimson brew made me recall that conversation and a drunken evening amongst good people.
This wasn't a beer for me but I still enjoyed it. Perhaps I needed to be another 5000 feet above sea level to really appreciate it's nuances. There were barely any hops to speak of as rolling waves of chewy golden syrup rolled across my tongue but there was enough to lend a dryness that made this beer very drinkable. What most impressed me was there wasn't a shred of burnt sugar or roasted malt such as I detect in so many modern style red ales. It was a perfectly crafted platform of malt begging for huge handfuls of Columbus and Simcoe, that's what my jaded palate was crying out for. I mostly enjoyed it because if it wasn't for Greg and I both becoming beer pirates, sailing the high seas of craft, I would have probably never drank it.
I can see why Greg as an avid homebrewer enjoyed this beer. It's meticulously well made despite not being designed for modern tastes. I learned more about the importance of well balanced malt profile in a single glass of beer than I had done with several hundred beers beforehand. Thanks for the beer Greg.
This beer was a gift from a friend and that definitely influenced my opinion of it. I still work in the Musical Instrument industry but Greg now designs wonderful handmade furniture.