Brasserie de la Rainette
A jewel, a veritable jewel.
In the UK I had occasionally dabbled in home brew, and I was thinking about brewing some beer here in France. But I didn't know how to source the material - malt, hops, or even a beer kit. In the UK I would just pop into Boots. I searched the net, and found some French suppliers, but the delivery costs were high.
I then joined a forum for amateur brewers, and through them discovered that there is a brewer here in the Charente.
Only 20 minutes from me, the Brasserie de la Rainette is run by Alain Mitteau.
I can't recommend the place enough. It's in the village of Chazelles, in an ancient water mill.
Alain had no brewing experience, he's ex-military, and on retiring decided to give it a go. He had to completely renovate the mill. He dredged out the old weir and rebuilt the weir wall. He renexed the mill wheel and works and, after some research went straight into setting up a serious little brewery.
He said he researched and created the recipes for his four beers, and has never had a failure, and not changed the recipes.
And, let me tell you, his beer is good. Very good. He makes an ambrée - brown complex, tasty. A sweet stout, dark and burnt, and a rarity in this part of France. A bitter ale that is superb, and a white beer that is hoppy and flowery.
Fiona and I spent the afternoon with Alain and his lovely wife Sylviane, with the sound of the water over the wier, talking about everything and tasting his excellent beer.
He makes about 4000 litres a year, and only sells it from the brasserie. He says he doesn't want to get into supply contracts with supermarkets because he brews for the pleasure of it. Once he's tied into production contracts it'll stop being fun.
If ever your in the area, you could drop in because between June and August he's open every day except Mondays, but outside of those dates give him a call, and he'll be able to organise a visit.
But I'd recommend, rather than just dropping in, make a day of it, visit the chateau at La Rochefoucauld and spend a few hours by the river, drinking Alan's superb brews.
I decided to wait a day before writing this, in case it was the effect of the beer that was fueling my enthusiasm. You know how you have a lovely bottle of wine at a restaurant on holiday, so you buy a bottle, and when you try it back home it tastes awful, because the relaxed holiday ambiance isn't there?
Well, lunchtime today we opened a bottle of Alain's bitter ale, and it is just as excellent as the stuff we had yesterday.
The dredged and renovated weir.
The mill wheel
The mill's mechanism. Alain uses the river water to cool the wort. It also generates electricity.
Chewing the fat.
The master brings another beer for tasting.
Their dog is thespitting image of Santa's Little Helper from the Simpsons
Happiness is a bag of beer