Brewing in the South of France (Perpignan and Calce)

After spending a few days exploring Toulouse, we headed south east, to Perpignan, a small city just north of the Spanish border. As something of a provident traveller, I had been sure to book our spot on the relevant train, which seemed especially important given the infrequency of the service. However, this proved to be a big fat waste of time in the end, as every single carriage was crammed full. We had to literally push our way on board, with some particularly unfortunate folks resigned to standing in the toilet. It was, for want of a better phrase, a total shit show. Again this was another situation where our awkward, foreigner’s self-awareness almost cost us, as our uncertainty over what was going on with the train and what the conductor was saying meant that we were less inclined to just force our way on immediately as we’ve had to do in places like London and Tokyo before.

The passengers in our section did their best to keep spirits high though, and with the exception of a few minor scuffles, were fairly successful. At one point, somebody whipped out a crossword and encouraged the full carriage to help them complete it. Given that my face was pressed up against the stairway at this point, I could only grab a picture on my god-awful phone camera, but it’s worth sharing despite the terrible quality. I promise this won’t be a regular occurrence.

It was busier than this looks.

The train thinned out as we approached Perpignan, which was good, because if it had persisted for the full 2.5 hour journey, it would have been utterly miserable. Either way, when we arrived I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty the town was. The palm trees and buildings reminded me a lot of New Orleans, and quite unlike what I expected the South of France to look like.

In the center there was a rather charming building which looked like a castle, or fortress of some kind; the reddish pink brick providing a pictorial contrast with the sky and surrounding verdure.

We didn’t spend too long in Perpignan, as we were really here to visit our friends Gordon and Roberta, who lived about a twenty minute drive into the countryside, but I did get a few pictures of some of the local characters that were milling around.

The whole reason that we came to France in the first place was to see our old pals though, on a trip that was long overdue already, before the pandemic forced us to postpone everything by an additional two years.

Gordon and Roberta

I originally met Gordon through Flickr, back in 2005 or thereabouts. More than probably anybody else, his pictures inspired and influenced me, particularly his work with Neopan 1600. While my account on there has long since gone, his can still be found here for the curious. It was cool to see his trusty old cameras lined up on the shelves, transported from Glasgow to France – including a few that I hadn’t seen in person before, like the notoriously unreliable (but still desirable) Pentacon Six.

Their house lies in amongst the hills in a tiny village called Calce, which apparently has a population of just 200 people. The view from their garden was pretty stunning, and had the added bonus of an actual swimming pool. In addition, their neighbour is an artist (evident by the beautiful ornate decorations adorning their fence), and was apparently Salvor Dali’s actual apprentice. Mind blown.

We were treated to a BBQ overlooking the hills on the first night.

and over the course of the time we spent in Calces, we ate very well. I hate the word ‘produce’ for reasons that I can’t quite articulate, but there’s just something so much better about the fruit and vegetables you get in Europe than in the UK. Oh wait, I know what it is. They actually taste of something other than water. As a tomato lover, this was heaven.

We also went to this amazing place where the fishing boats would bring in fresh oysters, mussels, and a whole other assortment of seafood to be served up in a collection of mini shacks by the water.

The size of some of these oysters was out of control. I’m not sure how you would possibly eat one of the giant ones, and thankfully we didn’t have to find out.

The spread was pretty impressive mind you, and the price for all of this was incredibly modest. If we had gotten this amount back in Glasgow we’d have bankrupted ourselves.

It wasn’t just the food that was great on this leg of the trip though, as the drink was also excellent. Until now I must confess that I’ve never really been a big fan of French wine, but the natural stuff that they made and bottled locally was incredible. The bottle I am displaying below like some sort of demented wax figure of ZZ Top could well be the best wine I’ve ever tasted. Though to be fair, this was not the first bottle of the night. Or even the third – but hey – Jesus left the best til last as well.

On this particular night we had ventured up to the village restaurant/pub/multi-services establishment, and in a place this small, everybody knows and chats away to everybody else. It wasn’t long before I was delving into the deepest recesses of my memory to try and dig out some of the whole seven years of High School French that I completely ignored at the time.

Things begin to get a little hazy here, but I am fairly sure by this point I was completely fluent in French thanks to the seemingly endless glasses of that delicious natural wine, and had a good conversation with this easy-going, friendly guy who told me that he had gotten all of his (many) tattoos blacked out after he left the Hell’s Angels decades previously.

Meanwhile, after I asked about his t-shirt, this fellow described a love for Italian painter Caravaggio in a surprisingly deep and awe inspiring way. I’m not entirely sure I know of many ‘normal’ people who could or would describe an emotional response to art in such an erudite and genuine manner.

I don’t remember too much else.

While France is known for its wine, it isn’t really known for its beer production – particularly not craft beers. Gordon and Roberta are on a mission to change this though, with Bruma Brew.

Their garage boasts an impressive micro-brewery setup, with a whole host of fermenters and tanks and other things that look amazing, but which I have exactly zero understanding of.

We tested a fair number of their beers over the few days we were there – for quality assurance purposes of course – and I can confirm that they are delicious. My personal favourite was a cherry sour, though the day we arrived they had just bottled their latest creation – an apricot wheat beer named ‘So Wit?’. The Weegies amongst you will get the reference.

There was also another version which had rosemary added into the mix, which was especially delicious.

It was good to finally make it out to spend time with our old friends, and see the life that they’ve built up in a very different place to where we first met – even if I did end up throwing up on the train on the way back to Toulouse after staying up until 6am drinking with Roberta on the last night. I fully expect Bruma Brew to take over the French beer scene in the next few years, and will take full credit for all of the insight I provided from my well honed palate.

2 thoughts on “Brewing in the South of France (Perpignan and Calce)

  1. Jeff Golenski July 16, 2022 — 14:56

    Brilliant work on a brilliant adventure

    1. Thanks Jeff! Are you in Denver in November?

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