Five things you didn’t know about French beer

You most likely know France as a wine country, but did you know that they have more than 1200 breweries in France? Recently I visited Paris Beer Week for the first time and found that France has a taste for craft beer! Never had a French bière artisanale before? That’s probably because they are champions at keeping it for themselves! They also have a long history of beer that is unknown to most. Here are five things you didn’t know about French beer.

Bière de Garde
Castelain Bière de Garde

1. France has its own traditional beer style

French beer has been around longer than you may think. The traditional French beer style Bière de Garde dates back to the days of farming life in rural France and is a top fermented beer (i.e. ale, not a lager). Bière de Garde, literally ‘beer to keep’, was a stronger beer made in winter and stored for warmer summer months, when conditions were not suitable for brewing. Until the first World War it was very similar to the Belgian farmhouse style or saison beers. After the war the beers needed to compete with the lagers taking over the market and were adapted to be more satiny and smooth and less hoppy and malty than the original.

Modern Bière de Garde can vary considerably among the various interpretations on the market today. This is a result in part of the French tendency to distinguish products by location, rather than by adhering to predetermined style characteristics. Not surprisingly you will find the greatest density of French brewers just across the Belgian border in the Haute-de France region (which includes the Nord-Pas-de-Calais area). Examples are Duyck, St. Sylvestre, Castelain, La Choulette, Thiriez and St. Germain.

2. The French like to mix it up 

Called panaché, this beery drink is half beer and half carbonated lemonade. It’s the French equivalent of British Shandy and German Radler. A variation called “Monaco” is a panaché with a shot of grenadine or red fruit syrup.

3. The name Trappist stems from the French monks

When monasteries spread from southern Europe to the northern countries, they started producing beer instead of wine. One particular order of monks in Normandy began a reform movement in 1664 as a reaction to the ‘overly relaxed’ practices in many Cistercian monasteries. This reformed Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance resided in Abbaye de la Trappe – hence they were also known as Trappist monks – where they brewed and sold beer until they were shut down during the French Revolution. The monasteries scattered and were later slowly restored in Belgium.

Commercial organizations began copying the Trappist beer style, leading to a ruling in 1962 by the Belgian Trade and Commerce court that this name could no longer be used for beers brewed outside of a monastery. Today, the International Trappist Association protects the designation and issues the authority to use the logo reading “Authentic Trappist Product”.

The Trappist name comes from Abbaye de La Trappe
St. Germain Page 24
St. Germain's beer line Page 24

4. The brewery name sometimes differs from the brand name

A strange quirk that I came across is the fact that local convention seems to require that the beer has its own brand name, though I didn’t manage to confirm that. For example Ch’ti is the beer line of brewery Castelain. Brewery St. Germain produces beers under the brand name ‘Page 24’. Duyck calls its beers ‘Jenlain’. Not every brewery does this, and I haven’t seen the new microbreweries do this either, so it strikes me as typically French that this ‘rule’ does not make sense at all. It must be true then. Anybody know what this is about?

5. French microbreweries and craft beer bars are blossoming

Comparable to most other countries, the biggest brewers (including beer labels like Kronenbourg and Meteor) still control the majority of the beer market. But even so, craft beer has been making a comeback in France for the past two decades. Last week I was fortunate enough to visit Paris Beer Week and get a taste of some of France’s best craft beers and breweries (check out this blog post for more on the French beers I tasted). 

According to Untappd these are currently the highest rated breweries in France:

  • Le Triangle
  • Brasserie Popihn
  • O’Clock Brewing
  • Hoppy Road
  • The Piggy Brewing Company
  • Brasserie Iron
  • Crazy Hops
  • La Débauche
  • Brasserie du Grand Paris
  • Brasserie Corrézienne

I was very impressed! If you get your hands on some of them, it’s definitely worth tasting!

During my trips to Paris I also took the time to explore the craft beer scene. They have some amazing beer bars and bottleshops! Here are a few worth checking out during your next visit.

Craft beer bars:

  • Hoppy Corner
  • La Fine Mousse
  • Enkore
  • La Cave à Bulles
  • La Moustache Blanche
  • Liquiderie
  • Bières Cultes

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