Change is brewing

Naintara Maya Oberoi | Updated on August 03, 2018 Published on August 03, 2018

Get to work, tipplers: There are workshops in Paris that allow customers to brew their own beer   -  ISTOCK.COM

Craft beer has come to a head in France, bringing forth a barrel’s worth of artisan ales, craft breweries, bottle shops, tastings and even a Paris Beer Week

France is so renowned for its wine that one might imagine beer to be a lowly also-ran, but the French are just as well-steeped in beer. Like most European countries, they have a long brewing tradition, especially in the northern regions bordering Belgium and Germany. For instance, Trappist beers were born in France (Trappist monks started off in the medieval La Trappe monastery Orne, north-west France). But monastic breweries disappeared with the closure of religious orders after the French Revolution, when monks and nuns fled, taking their beer recipes with them. Still, breweries continued to flourish; at the start of the 20th century there were over 3,000 breweries in France. Brasseries, those stolid, standard bastion of French food, originally meant “brewery” and like German beer halls, was a place to drink, dance and eat.

After the World Wars, the French countryside and its breweries were left devastated (many beer makers even had their equipment turned into ammunition). They virtually disappeared after the ’50s, leaving the French beer market to German-style industrial lagers.

Today most French beer producers are located in Alsace-Lorraine and the Nord-Pas de Calais. Alsatian brewers (Kronenbourg, Fischer Adelshoffen and Meteor) produce most of the beer in France, in the German pilsner and Munich lager styles. But there’s something insipid about most of these, probably due to the large-scale industrialisation and standardisation that took place in the ’60s. Further west, in Nord-Pas de Calais, brewing traditions have been better preserved, and even revived ’70s onwards. The region is home to many producers who specialise in bières de garde like St Sylvestre, La Choulette and Jenlain, malty pale ales which were made to be kept (garde) in cellars for later consumption.

When I first came to Paris in 2010, the ubiquitous, bland Kronenberg 1664, referred to as a “seize” (a “sixteen”), or a “Kro” was everywhere. It might be joined by a Grolsch, a Pelforth, a Leffe or a Stella Artois, but to get beer that tasted of anything but froth, you had to go to a Belgian bar, or hope that your local pub stocked something faintly interesting.

But change was brewing, slowly but steadily. And around 2013, it came to a head, exploding in a wave of artisan beers, craft breweries, bottle shops, beer tastings, and even a Paris Beer Week.

A few streets away from my apartment, the Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or is the first brewery within Paris’s walls for decades. The tiny operation opened in 2013 and is named after the vibrant, working-class neighbourhood (Goutte d’Or, or “drop of gold”). The organic, non-filtered and non-pasteurised bières artisanales, burbling away in huge drums inside the glassed-in shop, draw inspiration from the predominantly African and Arab immigrant area: They use ingredients like red peppers, allspice and ginger, and take their names from the streets around. The fruity Rue Myrha, named after the long straight lane of rum shops and religious bookshops, is a date-scented, dry pale ale, while the La Chapelle, a nod to the Indian and Sri Lankan neighbourhood, is a white wheat beer with masala chai notes. The bitter, biscuity Ernestine, an India pale ale (IPA) infused with cola nuts and rooibos, is a tribute to the shuttered Chapelloise brewery on rue Ernestine.

Further east on the Right Bank is the Paname Brewing Company (PBC), which overlooks the canal through French windows and pontoon terrace floating lazily on the water. Its beers hark back to the Belle Époque. L’Oeil de biche refers to the doe-eye tattoos of the Apaches (a Belle Époque-era street gang) and is a fresh pale ale, gentle and fruity, while the Baron Rouge, named after the German war pilot, is a heavier, almost caramelly beer, a toasty, bitter amber. The food is straight out of Brooklyn: Pizzas, salads, pulled-pork burgers, tacos and — just in case you forget you are in Paris — platters of charcuterie and cheese, Vietnamese bun bo and couscous.

Going head to head with the PBC and the Goutte are all the other breweries in Paris and its suburbs: Balthazar, Deck & Donohue, Demory, Outland, La Bouledogue, La P’tite Sœur, and dozens more. One of my favourite bars to try them all at is Le Supercoin, an amicable dive in the 18th arrondissement not far from the Goutte d’Or. The self-styled “garage bar” is a world away from the light, bright Scandi-chic PBC, hosting bands, quizzes, card games, and video game nights where excited thirtysomethings grimly battle over Mario Kart in its tiny space. The large rotating beer lineup is French-focused, and starts at €2, making it one of the most affordable places to taste Parisian craft beers. This month, for instance, they have the much-loved Giant Parisian Ducks from the Brasserie du Grand Paris, one of my favourites: a hoppy, citrusy blonde which turns slightly bitter at the end, and a bière de garde called Saint Girons des Flandres from the Brasserie Bellenaert in French Flanders, which is deep gold, malty and mellow, almost sweet. Le Supercoin doesn’t serve food but you can bring your own (beware hungry Mario Kart players) or order from the neighbourhood pizzeria. Once a week, a neighbourhood chef cooks a two-course meal for €10 that might include carrot-feta salad, tarragon chicken, fish tempura or potato salad.

If nothing amidst this cornucopia appeals, you could brew your own, at make-your-own-beer workshops like Beer Fabrique, Les Raffineurs or Les Houblonners that help you choose a recipe from stout, IPA, ale or lager, and taste and combine hops, malts, herbs and flavours, all while drinking their house blends. A month of fermentation later, you’ve got six cases of your own masterpiece to impress your friends with.

Ce n’est pas de la petite bière, as the French would say. No small beer, that.







Naintara Maya Oberoi is a food writer based in New Delhi;

Twitter: naintaramaya

Published on August 03, 2018
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