Find the Beer! Bottles of Brew Await in Hiding Places in France | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Find the Beer! Bottles of Brew Await in Hiding Places in France

Bottles of strong brew lurk in rock walls and cliffs around southern France. Can you find them?

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A hidden treasure–a bottle of Normandy apple cider stashed eight months earlier–is withdrawn from a hole in a rock wall in France’s Dordogne Valley. It was replaced with a Chimay Belgian ale. Want to play the game? Read this post for instructions. Photo by Alastair Bland.

The countryside of southern France is drenched in classic bucolic charm and beauty–and it hardly needs improvements. Here already are truffles, fois gras, wine, mushrooms, chestnuts and cheese. Castles stand on mountaintops, sheep graze in meadows, bears and wolves add an element of the wild to the high Pyrenees, and farmers markets pop up in almost every village. For many travelers and food lovers, the region is one of the Earth’s most exciting Edens. But even paradise gets better with a rousing game of beer-hunting. As I travel through southern France on my bicycle, from the Perigord to the Pyrenees, I am stashing brews in random cracks in the rock where nobody would ever think of sticking a hand and encountering a bottle of beer–except that I’m willing to give explicit directions to these rock-holes. That, of course, is the whole point in this game that I began last spring during a similar bike ride.

I call it “Find the Beer,” and the only rules are 1) you just take one, 2) you leave a beer of your own before you go, and 3) you let us know through Food and Think’s comments box that you’ve made the discovery–and, please, tell us how it tasted. NOTE: So that you don’t wind up taking a long trek for nothing, we will keep readers updated on the status of these beers (that is, found, or still hiding) via the comment thread below this post. ANOTHER NOTE: Please don’t stash canned beers, as I unwisely did in 2012. The cans may corrode if exposed to water, frost and heat. With no further ado, here they are–the locations of great beers now lurking in dark rock holes and crevices in the South of France. Go find the beer!

Out with the old, in with the new: The author collects a beer he left in a hole by the Grolejac cemetery in 2012 and replaces it with a bottle of Pelforth Brune–still there as of the publication of this post. Photo by Andrew Bland.

1. Groléjac, Dordogne. Pelforth Brune. Stashed on May 3, 2013. Dwelling between Souillac and Sarlat, this beer–a rich, hearty brown ale brewed in France–dwells in a cozy cobblestone hole just a stone’s throw outside the town of Groléjac. This brew replaces the two cans I left in the same hole last May; one was collected by one Edward Heseltine, of England, last fall, and I took the other this May. (The can was leaking and the beer was flat.) The Pelforth Brune now rests in a rock wall beside the town cemetery, on highway D 50–just east of the village. The beer is at ground level, in a hole that faces a walnut orchard across road. Use the photo included to guide you to the right place, or just start exploring these spider houses one by one. You’ll find the beer.

Just 100 yards in the background of this photo, in the base of the rock wall, a bottle of “blue-label” Chimay dwells in a rock hole. Photo by Alastair Bland.

2. Le Bugue, Dordogne. Chimay Brown (blue bottle). Stashed on May 4, 2013. About 100 yards east of kilometer marker 27 on highway D 703, a bottle of this highly esteemed Belgian beer dwells in the fourth drainage hole at the base of the rock wall between asphalt and cliff. Or was it the fifth hole? You tell me. This Chimay beer is the third drink to find its way into this hiding place. Last spring, I stashed a can of strong Dutch lager here. And in the fall, an American man, one Andrew Quinn, removed it and kindly left a bottle of Normandy cider. (It was excellent after a winter of hibernation.)

If you see this sign as you go downhill from Col de Port to Massat on highway D 618, you’re not far from a hidden beer. (It dwells in the rock hole directly below the author’s helmet, sitting on the rock wall in the background.) Photo by Alastair Bland.

3. Massat, Ariege. Duvel Belgian “SPECIAALBIER.” Stashed on May 12, 2013. This beer, a light-colored strong ale of 8.5 percent alcohol, lives in a hole along a rock wall on highway D 618, about nine kilometers uphill from the charming old town of Massat. When you arrive at a village named Brusque, the beer is all but yours. Use the accompanying photo to guide you to the gold.

See the author’s helmet placed among the boulders at the left side of the photo? That is precisely where a Fischer Bière De Noël was left hiding on May 16, 2013. The highway is D 17, en route to the 1,504-meter Cold de Jau. Photo by Alastair Bland.

4. Gorge de St. Georges, Highway D-17, Aude. Fischer Bière De Noël. Stashed on May 16, 2013. Just four kilometers upstream of Axat, in the Aude River gorge, this 6-percent alcohol lager awaits the hand that finds it in the cliff wall, between two sections of precipice contained by chain link fencing. If you’re going uphill, the beer is stashed on the left-hand side of highway D 17, about 100 yards upstream of the junction with D-118. D 17 is the road that leads to Col de Jau, a 4,935-foot pass that frequently occurs in the Tour de France route. Perhaps grab this beer on your way to the top.

A French artisanal beer is hidden in this rock wall, on highway D 74 in the Aude department. The bike helmet marks the spot. Photo by Alastair Bland.

5. Sougraigne, highway D 74, Aude. Biere de Printemps Aux 7 Cereales. Stashed on May 19, 2013. A craft beer of France, this small label was found in a fancy organic foods co-op and should be worth the trek to get it. It is 6.5-percent alcohol and contains seven grains, for what all that is worth. The beer is hidden in a rock wall precisely beneath, and just to the left of, the kilometer-3 marker on highway D-74, en route to Sougraigne, in the Aude department. It’s a small country road in a beautiful forested region–a worthy touristic drive whether or not you find the beer.

The 2012 collection. These beers need special mention. I stashed them in 2012. They are all strong beers, and if alcohol content has a say in how well a beer endures time (which it does) we should expect they are still in good shape. The only questions are:  Are they still there? (Nobody has claimed to have found them.) And have the cans endured the weathering effects of four seasons? (Aluminum may easily corrode and I have halted all use of cans and am now only placing glass bottles of beer, and I encourage others to do the same.)

1. Col d’Aubisque, Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Kellegen Blond Special. Stashed in June, 2012. This one is a year old now. I left it in the cliff halfway between the Col d’Aubisque and Col du Soulor passes, in the Pyrenees. It lies in a cobblestone crack just beside a spray-painted Basque freedom message, ‘LIBERTAT.’ Note that this beer is in a can. It’s not certain whether the aluminum has survived a blazing summer and a frigid winter without corrosion.

2. Col du Tourmalet, Hautes-Pyrénées. Beer type unknown (I forget). Stashed in June, 2012. I can’t recall exactly what the beer is–but it’s in a glass bottle, weighs in at a high alcohol content, and should be in good shape still. Trouble is, you must reach the top of this grandest of Pyrenees Tour de France passes to get it–nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. Precisely, the beer is hidden in a concrete bunker-like structure on the right side of the highway (if you’re ascending from the east side). Listen: The beer is tucked under a ground-level ledge (you’ll see what I mean when you get there), directly beneath the letter “L” in a spray-painted political message about Basque freedom.

3. Sauternes, highway D116 E1 (in the base of the cobblestone rock wall facing the entrance to Chateau Lafaurie-Peyragney), Gironde. Amsterdam Maximator. Stashed in May, 2012. The beer, an 11.6-percent wine-strength monster, is in a can. It is quite possible that corrosion has allowed in the air, spoiling this lager. Don’t make a journey to this point for the beer alone. The local wine is quite reputed–but if you’re there, it will be worth sticking your hand in a hole to get this big lager.

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