Bonjour Beer Friends!
In honour of our first ever French beers in this month's Beer Box, Cam gets his beret on for some deep thoughts about the French craft beer scene.
France. I don’t know about you, but when I think of France it’s usually with more than a little twinge of envy. All that awesome cheese and pastry. All that really, really good red wine. All that art and, you know, culture. And everyone looking ridiculously sophisticated and casual at the same time. "Effortlessly chic" my wife calls it. Because my chances of ever looking "effortlessly chic" are slim at best, I usually cover up my French-envy by making disparaging comments about nuclear testing and doing a stupid French accent.
So you can imagine the rather petty kick I get from knowing that, when it comes to craft beer, France is actually just a newbie on the scene, an ingénue if you will (sorry, couldn’t help myself - had to look it up though). Paris Beer Week, for example, only kicked off last year with 11 breweries on board. Our mates at GABs, on the other hand, got started back in 2012 and this year had 300 breweries represented. Cue smug look from yours truly.
But, here’s the thing, those Frenchies, in true French style, are doing the craft beer thing REALLY WELL. It’s a veritable craft beer revolution. And they know a thing or two about revolutions, right? So, in the spirit of craft beer fraternité (see - I'm practically bilingual now), I’m prepared to give credit where credit’s due and I won’t even do it in a stupid accent. This is what you need to know about French craft beer and why you should give it a swig.
It’s not all about grapes
Despite what you might think, France, has a long history with hops, not just grapes. At the end of the 19th century there were over 2800 small breweries across the nation. Many of these were farms who brewed up their beer over the winter so it would be ready for the hot months of summer. These were real deal microbrewers – small scale, ingredients to hand, brewed for taste and refreshment.
Well, it was all about grapes for a while
Industrialisation and two world wars did much to kill off these old breweries. By the 1970s there were less than 50 left. Enter Kronenbourg and for the last several decades beer in France has pretty much meant industrially produced blandness or expensive imports from their beer producing behemoth neighbor, Belgium.
Vivé le revolution
All the more impressive, then, that the return to craft brewing has been such a determined and creative one in recent years. Whether it be in disused maids quarters, revolution era cellars, or old slaughterhouses, the new wave of French craft breweries are giving a nod to the old traditions (hello, Biere de Garde) and mixing it all up with inspiration from US, UK, Germany & Italy – think dry-hopping, floral-citrus flavours, and smoked malt. But all done with a distinctively French subtlety and sophistication. Because of course.
It really isn’t all about grapes
While the reverence for French wine and gastronomie might still have many giving a horrified "mon Dieu!" at the thought of pairing a beer with their pâté, our French craft brewery compatriots are doing their best to get their beers on the table with food. Let’s help them out by pairing this month’s Bellerose Blonde with a Thai fish curry and the Gavroche with a nicely seasoned roast chook.
So there you have it. French craft beer. Respect. Add it to the list of things that the French do annoyingly well.