Marseille, a port city with a bad reputation, known mostly for its anise flavored pastis, basilica Notre Dame de la Garde perched on a limestone peak and sidewalks booby-trapped with dog shit. It also happens to be the place where I spent the week surrounding New Year’s Eve.
The only thing I knew before jumping on the plane was that no one mentions Marseille and craft beer in the same breath. On the contrary it is the epicenter of wine country France. History and culture has held and still holds wine as the preferred drink. Well, even politics and economics do. In 2013, higher taxes are imposed on beer while tax on wine stays the same. Call me a champion of lost causes or something, but I had an urge to see what hop juice I could squeeze out of this place.
The beer drinking that goes on here, is simply put, of a different kind. It doesn’t matter if you blame the favorable climate or bad taste for their existence, but shady is king. The sweet beerish thirst quencher goes by the name of Panachê and comes in a number of interpretations. Monaco is a blend of Panachê and grenadine, while Gommé is demi (25cl draft beer) with lemon syrup. Suck on that bonbon for a while.
It’s over this and other related topics me and proprietor Anthony Grimal share a beer at his bar La Cane Bière in the Longchamp neighborhood. It’s one out of perhaps a handful of the co-called Cave a Biere (beer cellars) here in the country’s second largest city. The name, La Cane Biere, is wordplay on the city’s most known street, La Canebiere.
Today Anthony is tired. Originally a Lille deportee, he came to Marseille two years ago, only to find the city in an immense shortage of craft beer. Being used to the rich line-up of Belgian artisanals ales in his former hometown he took matters into his own hands and opened up La Cane Bière in June of 2012.
The shop displays a more than decent selection of Belgian bubbly barley. There’s a fair share of monastic beer, including abbey beers and trappist brews. Taking a quick glance along the five shelves I recognize Orval, La Trappe, Chimay, Achel, Westmalle and Rochefort. Duh, no Westvleteren Anthony informs me. The commercial counterparts are represented by Saint Feuillien, Leffe, Maredsous and such. Plenty of high gravity Blondes, Brunes and Tripels in other words.
In total, the shop carries somewhere around 150 bottles of different beers as well as two rotating taps. On the day of my visit there’s Kwak and Gulden Draak hooked up to the machine. Neighborhood locals Hocine and Frederic pop in for a chat and glass of the latter.
To spice up things a bit and perhaps as a way to attract the shy craft beer drinkers of the city, Anthony invites local artists to exhibit their work in his shop. Once a month he hosts an opening event, taking on a new set of artists. I grab my glass of Gulden Draak, God what an amazingly complex taste, walking around the shop studying the paintings on the wall. One piece that really catches my attention is local grafitti artist Rish’s “Bierepapa”, featuring a gang of Barba-bottles held capitive in a cage behind the bar.
Although Anthony has the ambition to expand his selection with BrewDog and other beers I currently rate his place best for Belgian style beers. In all honesty it’s a modest place but the art exhibitions and the drink-in bar are a definite plus making this place worth a visit.
The Bottle Shops – Marseille
is a series of guiding articles on the best shops in the Mediterranean Metropol. The guide encompasses -
La Cane Bière on Boulevard Philippon · Caves Damiani on Boulevard Mireille Lauze · Fietje on Rue 3 Frères Barthélémy