Good Beer Hunting

no. 393


Like Istanbul, like Rome, like Athens, Marseille is defined by its hills. It's the sunniest major city in France and, from its highest point, where the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica stands, you have a clear view of its vast sweep as it meets the blue of the Mediterranean.

It’s the kind of place where I fully expect to drink frosty rosé by the carafe. Instead, fate ensures that my Airbnb is around the corner from one of Marseille’s only beer shops. There are a few recognizable American and British breweries on its shelves, but the selection is primarily French, and therefore mostly mysterious to me.

Robbed of eloquence and unfamiliar with most of what I see, I’m once again a neophyte, floundering in the world of beer. While that's scary for some, it's kind of refreshing, too. I know that hops are houblons, yeast is levure, and barley malt is malt d’orge, but my limited vocabulary means I can’t convey to the shopkeeper that what I really desire, on a warm September day, is a dank juice-bomb. Even pronouncing IPA in French—ee-pay-ah—sounds garbled, incorrect.

In the end, I walk away with a Physalis Saison. It’s a collaboration made by Brasserie de Sulauze and Brasserie du Haut Buëch, two breweries, the shopkeeper tells me, that hail from the southeast of France. I drink it as the sun disappears, watching crowds move along the darkening sidewalks from the vantage of the apartment, the shutters open wide. It’s pretty subtle, and not entirely what I was after. But in the way of vacations, this beer—which I will almost certainly never have again, and about which I know so little—is imbued with a special thrum of pleasure that can’t be replicated elsewhere.