OK, last Tour post, I promise. Through the first 12 stages (the riders are on stage 13 today) and after over 50 hours of riding, Aussie Cadel Evans has a 1 second lead over Luxembourgian Frank Schleck and a 38 second lead over American Christian Vandevelde. The Top 12 are all under 5 minutes from the lead. Even without drugs and relatively little external drama, this tour is turning out to be one of the best in recent memory. Heck, I even got my dad, a Midwestern meat-and-potatoes football and baseball kinda guy, hooked on the excitement of the damned thing. And, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin are easily best announcers on television.
So, starting Saturday, the tour heads along the Ligurian Sea, into the Italian Alps, with a stage or two in Italy, then back into the center of the country through the Rhone-Alpes and Auvergne regions.
Stage 14 and Stage 15 - Through the plains of Nimes and into the Alps on Sunday, there are no breweries until the tour crosses over the Italian border and passes through Frassino. There the tour will pass the B&B La Birra Della Valvaracho where Bierra Boero is brewed. Bierra Boero has been brewing since 2006 and now has 7 beers, ranging from a wheat to a porter and many in between.
Stage 15 ends in Prato Navoso, Italy and Tuesday is a rest day in Cuneo, Italy before trudging back up into the mountains and back into France. The 157 km Stage 16 from Cuneo to Jausiers is bereft of any breweries.
Stage 17 - Embrun to L'Alpe D'Huez - On Wednesday July 23rd the tours engages in a brutal 210 km high mountain stage through the Alps. This one stage features 3 of the most difficult climbs in all of France. The Col du Galibier, the Col de la Croix de Fer, and a finish on the L'Alpe D'Huez promises to make this, literally, a make or break stage. With the distinct possibility of eliminating virutally every sprinter and completely destroying the climbers, if you only watch one stage of the entire tour - this one will be unbelievable. And, there's more! What? More! How could you ask for more? Well, consider this a bonus. About 31 km into the ride, just as the peloton will begin break apart on the climb up Col du Galibier, there is a brewery in Briancon called Brasserie Artisanale des Grands Cols. By all accounts it is not a particularly good brewery. But still. It's better than nothing and it should provide carbs needed for the day.
Stage 18 - A foothills stage coming out of the Alps and into Saint-Etienne. About 8.5 miles southwest of Chavanay is an organic brewery called Brasserie du Pilat. Pilat brews 5 blondes, 3 ambers and 3 saisons. This makes the second all-organic brewery that we have seen along the route. Which is interesting to me because I think I can count on one finger the number of all-organic breweries here in the states. Of course, these French breweries are all small-time and I am sure there are plenty of small breweries and brewpubs not named Wolavers that are all-organic that just do not have high availability. But we have also seen a number of breweries that offer a few, if not all, organic beers. Nonetheless, it does help to bring to focus a trend that we here in the states may view simply as a trend, but that the French take very seriously - namely organic and sustainable agriculture. Outside of Paris, France is still very much an agricultural country and to prevent the erosion of that industry, they must make their agriculture sustainable. They simply cannot afford to rape their arable land in the name of industrial agriculture. I think there is an agricultural attitude here in the US that says that we can continue to fertilize and genetically enhance and monoculture our way through. But, I think we are starting to learn that this simply is not sustainable. Erosion reduces arable soil table, fertilizers wreak havoc on the waters, and monoculture requires trucking necessary fertlizers and soil nutrients all across the country in diesel trucks getting 7 MPG, $5/gallon at a time. Thankfully we are starting to see at least the forward-thinking Wisconsin brewing industry doing something about it - whether it is David Anderson's BrewFarm or South Shore Brewery leading a buying group and purchasing Wisconsin-based grain and hops. Hopefully these measures prove that local, sustainable agriculture is the only way to reduce reliance on others, decrease costs, stabilize an economy and ensure quality. Apparently the French already know this.
Anyway. Sorry for the little diatribe there, sometimes I get a little carried away.
Stage 19 - Roanne to Montlucon - this is the last stage that we will cover for the Tour as no beer is along the Stage 20 time trial and Stage 21 in Paris - well, you're probably not in Paris to drink beer. Besides, there is only one brewery that is only kinda sorta along today's route. Just shy of 9 miles south of Commentry is Brasserie des Sagnes in La Crouzille. Brasserie des Sagnes makes two beers. I'll let you guess the style? Think you've figured it out? Did you guess Blonde and Amber? If so, you would be correct. The brewery is not open to the public, though, so you'll just have to settle for finding their beers in local restaurants and bars.
I hope you've enjoyed this trip through France. I had no idea what to expect when I started this, but it is possible to make some general observations. First, French beer is not a big industry, there are very few active discussions or reviews of these beers and with limited exception are not available outside of their immediate areas. Even the major cities are often without major breweries. It is difficult to make any pronouncement as to quality - while some reviews haven't been particularly favorable, few have been atrocious and there simply isn't a very big sample size. Most of these breweries appear to very local, so the extent that these breweries are putting out "table beer" is it really fair to judge them on any particular set of criteria other than "not bad" or "would spoil your meal"?
And second, French beer, or at least much of it, attempts to duplicate the sustainable agriculture of the renowned French wine industry. For this reason few of them would even be capable of growing large enough for inter-national distribution channels.
In any event. I hope you've enjoyed this brewery tour of the Tour. Au revoir.