Posts ByKate Robinson – PorchDrinking.com
Tasteless? Unrefined? Too filling? Probably not how you’d describe the majority of the beer you’re used to drinking. After the all-too-common declaration “Oh, I don’t like it,” these are fairly standard reactions to beer in France, where wine still gets all the attention.
Although a spirit of creativity and experimentation permeates the French craft beer community, negative stereotypes about beer persist among the general public: it’s seen as uninteresting swill for a hot day or to accompany a football match. Many Parisians aren’t even aware that there are nearly a dozen craft breweries operating in their own backyard.
Mike Donohue and Thomas Deck are friends who managed to go from drinking the beer they love to making it. Open just over a month, their brewery, Deck & Donohue, is already making waves in Paris. Located in the Parisian suburb Montreuil, the brewery is one of the few close enough to Paris to bike to. I made it out there during a Saturday open house to taste their Monk brown ale and see what else was on tap.
Hoppy beers are a relatively new arrival in France. A few avant-garde brewers like Daniel Thiriez started experimenting early on, but most breweries continued to make less-than-exciting traditional beer based on the relatively meaningless blonde–ambrée–brune color palette. Happily, a number of new-generation breweries are not afraid to hop things up a bit and put out their own French IPAs.
France has taken its sweet time getting around to craft beer, but the French are finally starting to realize what they’ve been missing out on. Thanks to some passionate brewers in all six corners of the Hexagon, local craft beer is now readily available alongside imported favorites. This Ultimate 6er is a mélange of new and established breweries from around France. It’s not a “best of,” just a peek at the variety of what’s happening out there and some breweries to keep an eye on.
La Brasserie du Mont Salève wears its name well: nestled at the foot of Mont Salève near the Swiss border, this French brewery has been turning out some of France’s most interesting beers since 2010. Head brewer Mickaël Novo likes to experiment with strong flavors, but don’t assume that means strong beers. The Mosaic Black Bitter is an intensely hoppy beer that surprises at a mere 3.5% ABV.
A few years ago, in the French region of Brittany, I had a beer that took me by surprise: the label said it was brewed with sea salt. I hadn’t yet heard of gøse and the beer had a salinity and fullness that was new to me. I forgot the name and spent several years trying to track down salty beer. On a brewery tour in Seattle I piped up and asked the head brewer if he’d ever heard of such a thing—he looked at me like I was crazy. Of course I wasn’t; I’d just asked several years before the sour beer frenzy hit the States.
I’m a sucker for a label I can’t read; it lends an air of even greater mystery to the unknown beer I’m about to drink. Lately I’ve found myself gravitating toward the slashed O and puzzling consonant combinations of Danish beers, like Fanø Julebryg, which are showing up in greater numbers on the shelves of my neighborhood beer store in Paris. This is not really surprising, considering the rate at which craft beer has seduced the hearts and taste buds of northern Europe. Thankfully, it’s finally trickling down to France.
It was Thanksgiving, and I had a mountain of vegetables to peel and pare. That’s thirst-provoking work and I wanted a beer. But not just any beer. I wanted an American beer, something to go with my favorite all-American holiday.
Cantillon’s cheery yellow façade looks out over a vacant lot in an industrial part of Brussels. If you stand quietly on the sidewalk outside and breathe deeply, you can hear the clinking of bottles and smell the pleasant sourness of yeast at work. You might even feel that sharp pleasant sting of anticipation as you imagine taking a sip of a pale-gold gueuze.
I have to be honest. I bought Préambule based on the label. I thought the bubbles were neat. And while you shouldn’t judge a beer by its label, I did pretty well this time around. But I wouldn’t have been as surprised by this provocative little beer if I had bothered to read what was written instead of fawning over the nice packaging.