French stuff gets a good run around here. Usually wine, occasionally brandy, now and then absinthe. Never before a French beer though. Beer doesn’t really register on the Franco-radar. According to this book Farmhouse Ales I happen to have sitting on my shelf though, the French have a “little known tradition of beer appreciation” and a “rich beer culture” to compete with their Belgian neighbours.
Pynchon, however, may disagree. French beer has what might appear to be the honour of featuring in a song in Gravity’s Rainbow, with the singing lead by Tyrone Slothrop himself . But it isn’t exactly getting rave reviews.
The Ballad of Tantivy Mucker-Maffick
Oh Italian gin is a mother’s curse,Gravity’s Rainbow, p. 191.
And the beer of France is septic,
Drinking Bourbon in Spain is the lonely domain
Of the saint and the epileptic.
This is the first of that trio I have managed to sample. Each, I suppose, is an odd choice of order in the given locale. (Spanish bourbon would be a definitional oxymoron, but I guess the Spanish epileptic can be getting into some Kentucky product).
My French beer, as it happens, is actually good. This “Lug Blonde” from Brasserie des Voirons provides a firm rebuttal to Pynchon’s slander. It’s a bright light straw coloured saison with a big rocky fluffy white head. It tastes of lemon, orange, hay, white pepper, clove, and sage. It’s effervescent, soft, and crisp—thoughtful but totally refreshing. Just the kind of thing I like. Not even a little bit septic.
Around the beginning of the twentieth century, the esoteric, small scale farmhouse brewing practices that had been common in much of France began to be pushed out by industrial lager production. When Tantivy’s song refers to septic French beer, he’s likely thinking of something like that, mass produced with not quite German precision. According to Farmhouse Ales though, those more eccentric traditional brews reclaimed some cultural capital and made an underground resurgence in the late ’70s. Happily, some aseptic beer seems to be hanging on in France.
Bring on the Italian gin!