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Classic Beer of the Month August 2015: Castelain Ch'ti Blonde

Castelain Ch'ti Blonde, 6.4%

Bénifontaine is a small village just north of Lens, in northern France. The area has been known for coal mining and farming but it is brewing today that provides the claim to fame.

Ch'ti BlondeIn 1926, three brothers named Delomel opened a brewery here. It operated for forty years before being sold to Roland Castelain, who renamed it and then passed it on to his children in the 1970s.

It wasn't a big concern to inherit. Production was low and times were tough but under the regime of Yves and Annick Castelain, the brewery gained a new lease of life, largely due to the introduction of a different type of beer.

This area of France is the home of bière de garde, a type of top-fermented beer that takes its name from the long period of conditioning – the 'garde' – it is allowed at the brewery before going on sale.

In 1979, Yves added a new slant on the style by creating a blond version. It was initially offered as a Christmas special, brewed with premium ingredients and conditioned for six weeks, and then became a year-round brew. The future of the brewery changed for the better at that moment.

Ch'ti Blonde is a delightful beer. Its peculiar and unflattering name is derived from the local dialect word for a northerner and, along with its near-neighbour Jenlain Ambrée, I seek it out whenever I am in France.

Seductive Appearance

The appearance is seductive, the deep yellow colour resulting from the pilsner malt and wheat malt used in the mash tun, although there is a little darker malt in the mix, too.

The aroma is delicately spicy, with sweet, hay-like malt notes leading the way. These promise a sweet taste and that is then delivered right from the first sip.

Some people may find the beer a touch too sweet, and it does have a syrupy texture, but cutting through the sweetness is generous carbonation and a mild herbal bitterness derived from the use of four hops.

The varieties are kept secret but I am told that two come from Flanders and two from eastern Europe.

Honey-like notes run through the taste, but with a coriander-like spiciness for balance, and then bitterness slowly builds in the full finish that offers gentle herbal notes and a peppery warmth.

At 6.4% alcohol, and as clean as a whistle thanks to the long conditioning, this is a rich, satisfying beer that has justly brought success to this family-run brewery.

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