France is stereotypically synonymous with good food and drink. After all, this is the culture that coined the term joie de vivre, has a 35-hour legal work week, and enshrined cheese as a formal meal course. And although Paris is no longer the European gastronomic capital it once was, the enjoyment of food and drink is an inextricable part of Gallic life, like cynicism and cigarettes. But for the last few decades, a good domestic beer has been remarkably hard to find in the City of Light.
How can this be? According to Modern Farmer, France had 2,800 small breweries at the end of the 19th century, but by the mid-20th century they had ceded production to a handful of large companies who prioritized profits over flavor. Beer became a bland, industrial drink that was an acceptable thirst quencher, but nothing to be savored. Modern Farmer reports that by 1975, there were only 23 French breweries left.
Kronenbourg 1664 is owned by the Carlsberg Group, and is the most sold French beer in the world. [Photo: Carlsberg Group]
A few years ago, a renewed interest in craft and home brewing began to percolate in Paris. It’s arisen in tandem with the consomm’acteur movement, which can be summarized as “eat less, eat better.” And we’re guessing the Parisian obsession with all things Brooklyn probably played a part in the growing trendiness of small-batch suds as well.
There are now more than 500 craft breweries in France, and Paris just hosted its first ever beer week featuring home brewing workshops, tastings and food pairings, brewery tours, and tap takeovers. While this bodes well for hopheads and beer nerds, craft suds are still far from mainstream: Only 11 breweries, 6 bars, and 7 bottle shops took part in La Paris Beer Week. And according to Modern Farmer, small domestic producers still find it difficult to get their beer into bars and restaurants, since many are owned or financed by the major conglomerates.
Paris Beer Week. [Photo: Facebook/Paris Beer Week]
But change is in the air and in tap lines—albeit it’s a slow burn. “The French are very conservative when it comes to food,” said Thomas Deck of Deck & Donohue brewery in Montreuil. But he has noticed consumer habits changing as people become more concerned with the quality and source of ingredients and products. Deck tells Modern Farmer,
“These really nice restaurants with amazing wine selections are realizing that they can’t offer industrial beer with their food.”
Could French beer one day reach the same prominence and acclaim as French wine? It’s a pipe dream, but not an impossibility. For now though, beer lovers need to support local brewers and initiatives like Paris Beer Week. In other words, drink more beer.
[via Modern Farmer]