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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

French Beer

Grape based drinks receive a lot of attention in France, and rightfully so. However, a good percentage of France's terrain is not suitable for grape cultivation. As a result of the climate, regions of France such as Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Bretagne, and Alsace are fitting producers of beer. Many do not know outside of France (and even those that reside within its borders) that it is the home of some excellent beer.

Brewing dates back to at least the 11th century in the northern France, and to the time of the Gauls in Alsace. The Romans brought wine with them to Eastern France, and beer subsequently became the drink of the working class. The monasteries in both regions became the most reputable brewers during the Middle Ages up through the late 18th century, as outside of winter time, they were the only ones who were allowed to produce it. The French style Bière de Garde was produced in the wintertime by farmers in Northern France to be kept for the summer months as a result of the law. The French Revolution put an end to this regulation, and brewing flourished in Northern and Eastern France. There were roughly 2,000 breweries in France at the turn of the 20th century, though this number has dwindled to approximately a tenth of its former amount.

Unfortunately most of the French beer that people know in France is produced in enormous quantities and rather bland. In Paris, it is surprisingly difficult to find quality beer, as most bars serve only Kronenbourg and Heineken products. This is beginning to change, as beer is increasingly becoming a beverage of choice. This is leading to bars putting higher quality beers on tap and even led to the reopening of two breweries in Paris, one in 2009 and the other in 2010, after both had been closed for 40 years.

For those that live outside of France, other than the mass produced lagers which are not really worth the extra money to begin with, it is difficult to obtain high quality craft beer from France. Even when it can be found, it can suffer from the long voyage and may lose a lot of its character.

All the more reason to come to France and try some high quality beer.

(Certain facts from the article were obtained from Culinaria France by André Dominé and the Eyewitness Companions Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson).