The Bordeaux regions of France produce as much wine as all of Germany’s vineyards combined. However, I’m no wine buff so I wonder if Bordeaux has any alternative to its vins. A booming beer culture, perhaps?
The opening (in June 2016) of the 81-million euro ($90 million) La Cité du Vin on the banks of Garonne – dedicated to the history of French wines – shows how important the industry remains to Bordeaux. Bordeaux offers wine tastings aplenty, as does the nearby village of Saint-Émilion, home to the world’s finest merlots and cabernet francs. It’s easy to find a professional tasting, where I learn to pair a sweet Sauterne with a pungent blue Roquefort.
So, in this French heartland of wine, is there anything to be found for the beer lovers out there? I soon stumble on a place where my questions are answered. Brasserie Mascaret is a brewery and vineyard in Rions, a medieval village some 40 minutes away by bus from the city center. The road meanders through rolling vineyards, the vines heavy with grapes waiting to be harvested.
Outside the Brasserie, I see a small van decorated with images of four different beer bottles: a wheat beer, a blond beer, a pale ale and a brown ale. These are the four craft beers produced by Pauline and Fabrice Rivière, a couple originally from Bordeaux itself. They have been brewing beers for 20 years now. Fabrice has a microbrewery diploma from the University of La Rochelle, having learned the craft before it was cool. The couple have been slowly expanding their home brewery, filling it with robust stainless steel machines, gadgets and gizmos. But converting wine-loving locals into beer geeks has not proven to be an easy task.
“If you asked locals if they liked beer, they would look at you with blank faces,” says Pauline. “Over the years, I have set up tasting sessions and taught people how to drink beer – just like you teach people how to drink wine. It’s an acquired taste. No one thought I would get this far. Now I even teach people how to brew their own beer.”
Lately, the couple have experienced a change in mentality in their wine-addicted region. People are starting to appreciate grains, hops and yeasts. Pauline and Fabrice drive around the region to drop off casks of beer every day. Their brown ale even won an award at a national craft brewing award ceremony. Their success has forced the couple to outsource their 27 hectares of vineyard to their neighbors, who are now in charge of selling their wines and shipping them as far as China.
I ask Pauline if they hope to take over Bordeaux with their craft beers. “We hope so, but competition is getting stronger,” she says, naming a couple of rival breweries in the region. She understands that wine will forever be Bordeaux’s darling, but the future for us beer-lovers does not look too bleak.
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