Few other countries rival France when it comes to gastronomy – or the level of emotion invested in that gastronomy. And while the French capital is full of Michelin-starred restaurants, wonderful wine bars, and excellent craft cocktail dens, there has been a distinct gap in its culinary attentions when it comes to beer.
That isn’t to say that beer isn’t consumed in France. While it’s known internationally as a country full of wine guzzlers, France was, 100 years ago, home to 2,800 breweries, while local beer makers served as an essential part of the country’s culinary fabric. However, with the mass consolidation of the brewing industry during the 20th century – and takeovers by multi-national corporations – there were fewer than 30 breweries left by the 1970s, and beer fell decisively out of fashion.
These days, those attitudes have stuck around: though few natives would cop to something as déclassé as drinking boxed wine, Kronenbourg and other low-quality beers are shamelessly swigged in every bar and café. Beer is seen as an aperitif of sorts: refreshing, ideally low in flavour, and rarely if ever consumed as part of a meal.
But there are signs that tastes are changing – and that the global craft beer boom, begun in the US in the 1980s – has finally made its way to Gallic shores.
For instance: Paris is now home to its very first independent brewery. Founded in 2012 by self-taught brewer Thierry Roche, Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or – named for the multicultural neighbourhood in the north of the city that it calls home – is a unique part of the Paris craft beer phenomenon. The brasserie begins with beer styles popularised by international brewers and flavours them with ingredients sourced from very, very close to home. Like its Château Rouge, named for a nearby Métro station: a malty amber ale, the beer is dosed with peppercorns and other exotic spices sourced from the nearby street market. Other pours look even farther afield for inspiration, like its Chai Wheat, which is inspired by Indian flavours and is perfectly refreshing on a summer’s day.
While the first Paris craft beer brewery is groundbreaking, it’s not easy to grab a drink from within its walls – as Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or is open to the public for just two hours on Thursdays and Fridays, and a few more on Saturday afternoons, it can be a bit of a mission to get a pint here. But luckily, the city is now home to more than a dozen reputable craft beer bars which have no shortage of brews in stock.
Arguably the best known is La Fine Mousse, a trendy little boite located in Oberkampf – one of Paris’s most branché (plugged-in) neighbourhoods. Also opened in 2012, the bar has a record 20 draughts, as well as a list of 150 craft bottles sourced both domestically and internationally. Though American and European bottles draw plenty of expats, its focus on regional French pours makes La Fine Mousse the perfect locale for those seeking a Gallic beer primer. Note that there’s also a newly opened restaurant next door that specialises in beer and food pairing, which constitutes brand new turf for conservative gourmands.
Of course, La Fine Mousse isn’t alone as a French beer drinker’s enclave: a whole generation of new beer bars are attracting craft beer drinkers from near and far, while also seeking to convert French tastes to the ale side of the spectrum. Les Trois 8 in trendy Belleville, on the eastern edge of the city, is a friendly little neighbourhood bar that also happens to pour eight craft numbers on tap and over 100 in the bottle, while Le Supercoin adds a rock and roll edge to its beery ambiance.
For those looking to take away rather than drink in-house, there’s also a new range of bottle shops that sling their suds in the hundreds – if not the thousands. One of the comparative old guard, La Cave à Bulles, located in the centre of the city and founded in 2008, has its own motto: “Vous allez aimer la bière,” (You’re going to love beer!) it proudly proclaims. People’s Drugstore in the north of the city has a huge range (and a quick chiller, so you can enjoy your new purchases in front of one of its chess tables, if you prefer), while others like Bière et Malt and La Moustache Blanche add to the now ample offerings.
And if any more proof were needed that the beverage tides are flowing towards Paris craft beer, note that this year marked the inaugural edition of La Paris Beer Week. Held this spring and involving bars, breweries, boutiques, and other members of the region’s beer community, it was a roaring success, and is certain to usher in new celebrations in the years to come.
Feature image © Alexandre Martin
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