Google Paris, and for sure you’ll get les arc de triomphe, the tour Eiffel and the pervasive blonde Hilton… so it was with some trepidation that I jumped on to the Eurostar, (I hate trains) and headed to Paris to meet up with friends and hopefully see one or two of the above…
France is, where as Paris isn’t, well, known for beer – especially when you consider the old “London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Berlin…” – ech. London, as you might or might know is going thru a little bit of a revolution in its beer offering, Milan is pretty good and getting better (I love Milan, for all it’s traffic and noise, it’s a pretty cool spot) , Barcelona is working on it (when the new Moritz venue opens, it’ll rock the world!) and Berlin is a very very cool spot.
Now, I better put my cards on the table, I actually don’t really care for hard-core beer-geek-isms (hyphens included). I love beer passionate people. I love great beer yes, but I prefer the combine of great spot, great scenery and great “scenery”. I like the everyman and woman spots – but when it turns to a sausage fest, solely for beer – I run! fast. The recent, but excellent Marble showcase at the excellent Cask and Kitchen in Pimlico was a prime example – many many friends, but way too beery for me for me to relax and enjoy. Beer is my job, and something of a way of life for me, as much I like hanging out with Pete, Brad, Mark, Mark, Ang, Tom, Dom, et al… I do like mixed company… I have to thank Melissa for bringing an extra X.
So, of course, I like to get away from this, means a little travelling, to me. “Travelling with out moving” isn’t my cup of tea, so it generally means a few hours in the little blue beer taxi.
I like travel. It’s the best. if there is a beer at the end of the rainbow, even better. A new beer, a brewer doing interesting things or just a passionate beer person providing an oasis in the desert even better. I love finding a brewer doing great things, but who’s bypassing the pervasive ‘merican-ism’s (to what I am equally guilty of).
One such place that is really finding it’s feet is France. It’s like watching a peitry dish with some culture in it. Ok, so that’s a really bad analogy but it works in a frame.
France is going through something of a revolution – I have noticed, but I really needed evidence to confirm. France is five times the size of the UK. I lived there for about 2 years, in Paris, Bordeaux, Dijon and near Marseille. France was shit for beer. When I mean shit, I mean SHIT! It was ‘bourg, ‘bourg or oh, a ‘bourg; Pression! The things we men do.
Ok, so it was a fun time. She was great, but.
It’s with some weird sensation that I am back touring France. It’s funny how ex-girlfriends, the memories can really tarnish a later experience. The return to france started with a fleeting glance at the Nord/Pas-de-Calais on the return legs of Belgian runs. Then a trip to Orval/Chimay, where the return journey took us to a newish “BrewPub” where we, Simon Johnson and I, met a delightful vision in denim. The denim, prompted a return journey. The conversation prompted more exploratory visits. I don’t believe you can really “Know” places on one overnight visit.
I have a bunch of friends in Paris, (yes, I have friends) – some who are very beer aware. They have tried to open a “garagiste style brewery” – what the americans call a Nano-brewery. I also heard stories of a brewery opening in an old brothel. And, many more cool things to boot.
Ok, Paris. It has the Frog and Rost Bif, and more of the same. UK “Firkin” style brewpubs, that are seemingly very successful. But, they, for me, being UK prompted little more than a swift half, and a cursory glance. The benefit of local, interested and active beer knowledge and a nice pair of blue eyes helping with the translations does make things flow more easily.
One oasis of FRENCH beer is the Caves a Bulles. (the a needs a line above it, but I can’t find that) – Simon, runs a top french beer spot. Beers like Chimay (their proximity to France) have a great presence in bars in Paris, as much Grimbergen (eh,ni,ken) – it’s wonderful to see someone putting it out there shouting about the quality and diversity of flavours that are being created in France right now. Yes, not all french beer is the bomb, but hell they are trying! They are using Alsatian hops, French/Belgian/German malts – way more balance – but great.
I was in a meeting on Friday, back at Cavedirect, where I received an email – I’ll dump quote for you:
I was interested to see that you’re getting into French beer. My partner and I are regular judges at a beer festival in the Champagne area of France.
When we first started 3 years ago there were only a handful of breweries that entered but year on year the number of entrants is growing, so much so that next year a bigger venue may be required.There are some interesting things going on in French breweries at the moment. They used to be just a more boring version of Belgian beers but things are slowly changing and they are beginning to take on other influences. One French brewery even described their beer as an IPA (sadly it didn’t taste anything like an IPA). There is also a Sottish Brewer, Craig Allen, now brewing in the Picardi region, he was a new entrant in this year’s festival and definitiey the hoppiest beer.a particular favourite of mine, and I’ve never seen it anywhere other than the festival, is a dark beer, brewed by a couple of hippies, in Tonnerre de Bresse.
That email was another reason I love beer people, the sharing of knowledge, be that reciepes, actually help and just plan old “gen”. But, cool huh!
It’s great to have been part of the inception of the London Brewers Alliance, but to be part of a whole nations craft beer movement, whether they call it that, I dunno, but you get the message, must be soooo coool. The recent visits to France,growing from 80 something breweries to nearly 300 in 13 years, is pretty cool. The thing I love about the french brewing “scene” is that it’s a devil may care, who dares wins, get on with it, we’ve nothing to lose, no one to pander too, have fun and get on. Every other beer scene is either inhibited, prohibited or just stuck in their ways – even the exploding UK craft beer scene, is somewhat hamstrung with some protocol and bullshit politics.
The other thing that I love about Paris, is the late nights, I am currently about to dash for a train, having found some “weeefeee” – Back to Lille, then on to Ashford (Where another new brewery has just opened, and not a mickey mouse affair either!) – but, I haven’t really slept, the slow, long nights, socialising, the philosophical chats and the deep and meaningful and the pouty women in lovely jeans and dresses are still here to drive the anglo side of my make up, nuts.
I must suggest to anyone wanting a change from the more, more, new, new, hoppier, hoppier, side of beer, make a weekend of Paris and have some fun… Coffee and croissant don’t stave off a hangover tho…
France is figuring out beer, watch out. en francais
my favourite view of Paris 😉