Napoleon complex? Are you trying to say I'm sophisticated? Merci, Monsieur Alehead!

Let me take you back a few months to a conversation I had with Nurse Van Drinkale.

Nurse: “Love O’Mine, light of my life, what say you to a European adventure of culture and sophistication? ”

Doc: “Huh?”

Nurse: “Dearest, I’m talking about France, the land of enchantment and whatnot”

Doc: “Will there be beer?  I like Germany, they have beer.  I like Belgium, they have beer”

Nurse:  “I haven’t a fucking clue.  What are you gonna do, blog from there?  Awesome, why don’t you do just that and play on your stupid computer after you get drunk every night.  Are you in?  Does that sound fun to you?”

Doc:  “In, there must beer somewhere”

Alright, so maybe the conversation didn’t go down like that and maybe I did a backflip at the prospect of going back to France to live a bit of the good life.  In all seriousness though – France?  I love France, in fact, I happen to love a few French beers.  When I think of France though the last thing on my mind is going to beer.  Succulent cheese, yes.  Luscious wines and brandy, yes.  Beer, nope.  Alas, the Nurse got a free ticket and a couple nights of accommodation so France was where we went.

France does in fact have a strong brewing tradition with areas like French Flanders and Alsace producing some world class beers.  La Choulette is by far my favorite brewery in the country and Bière de Garde is the style that I’ve grown to love.  Unfortunately I wouldn’t have the opportunity to travel to some of these better beer regions and instead spent all of my time in Paris and a couple smaller venues in Brittany and along the coast.   You won’t find a litany of great reviews in this post but that’s simply for a lack of availability in my locations.  France differs from the US in one major way (OK, in 4,282 different ways).  “If it’s not from here, you won’t get it here”.  Local products rule the scene so if you’re looking for some delicious Strasbourg beers in Rennes, chances are you’re shit out of luck.   That’s not to say that you won’t find imports or nationally produced products, but when you’re in a bar that sells 3 beers to go along with their 30 wines, it’s a simple matter of stocking what sells.  Little did I know that Brittany was once “The” beer producing region in France and micros are starting to make a comeback as we speak.  Due to its proximity to England Ales dominate the landscape with a preference toward Bitters and Milds.  I didn’t get to try as many cool new beers as I would have hoped, but at least I was drinking somewhere other than my couch.  I’m sure you’re tired of my rambling (I know I am) so let’s get to some brief tasting notes.

  • Pelforth Blonde – I was excited to see this beer on the menu.  From Marseilles, interesting looking tap handle, never seen it before, let’s give it a try.  Our waiter spoke impeccable English but when he “warned” my wife that it was a lager we both kind of stared at him and she ordered it anyway (Apparently women don’t drink lagers in France, who knew?).  Poured a hazy straw color, grassy nose, light mouthfeel, kind of bland but refreshing nonetheless.  Nurse did not seem to mind at all and actually enjoyed the brew but I was indifferent.  Not bad, not great, I’d give it a 2 hop rating.  I assumed the Pelforth Blonde was in fact a Blonde Ale and the waiter was full of shit, but no, it’s a macro-lager.  Later I come to find out they’re owned by a little company called Brasserie Heineken.  Ever heard of them?  Not a good start for the authentic French beer search.
  • Pelforth Brune – Much later in the trip, still before I found out about the Heineken connection, I went with a Brune since it was the only other beer on the cafe menu other than the Blonde.  This one is actually done in an English Brown Ale style and I think they nailed it pretty well – Really well if you consider who makes it.  Nice head, fairly sweet taste with a drying finish, 6.5% alcohol rounds everything out nicely.  I’ll go with 2.5 hops.  I almost want to give it a higher rating simply due to the alcohol warning on the label.  There’s a picture of a pregnant woman crossed out Ghost Busters style with some writing that I couldn’t decipher underneath.  I’m not sure if the picture means that pregnant women shouldn’t drink, you shouldn’t drink too much or you’ll get someone pregnant, or if you drink too much you’ll go sterile and won’t be able to get anyone pregnant.
  • Brasserie Lancelot Blanche Hermine– Now we’re talking, a true authentic Breton Beer from a nice little brewery.  I happen to love Witbiers so I chose this out of the 3 offerings on hand (Looked like a Pale Ale and maybe a Dubbel for the others, all Belgian styles).  I would call in akin to something like Hoegarten, minus some of the yeast.  Lots of lemon, great carbonation, slight bite but nothing too overwhelming.  After walking for miles on uneven cobblestones this beer hit the spot.  Very refreshing, 3 hops.
  • Kronenbourg 1664 – I already knew this beer sucked, but on the flight back I had a choice of Amstel Light, Heineken, or this.  I made a bad choice, let’s just leave it at that.  No, you know what, let’s not leave it at that.  Let’s leave you with a couple of tidbits from the ingredients label.  1) Glucose syrup 2) Color.  All I want to see is Water, Grain, Hops, Yeast.  I don’t want to know the blend of corn, wheat, and barley they used in this.  I don’t want to know that they added sugar (Come to find out they do add sugar and it’s not just on there because they used it to spark carbonation or anything).  And for the love of God, please don’t tell me that you’re adding coloring!  This is an absolute 0 hop brew, I’d rather drink a Keystone than this crap.  #1 selling beer in France, awesome.

One thing I will mention that was extremely surprising was the vast availability of Leffe Blonde and Affligem Blonde, both Belgians and owned by InBev/Anheuser Busch and Heineken respectively.  I saw countless drink umbrellas with their labels on cafe terraces and a few bars we went to only sold their products.  Kind of crazy.  Complete side tangent, check out Affligem’s website with your sound on and start clicking around.  You’ll thank me.

I wish I had some more French beers to add but that’s all I had from this trip.  I drank some good Brandy, some better wine, and an ass load of the best Cider I’ve had in my life, but the beers were few and far between.  What did I expect?  This isn’t Belgium, is it Danny?

4 thoughts on “À VOTRE SANTÉ!

  1. I was last in Paris a decade ago and Leffe was pretty dominant even then. Most of the cafes served Leffe Blonde and Brune. I drank plenty because it was their cheapest option and I was a broke-ass college student.

    I was definitely underwhelmed by Paris as a beer city. But then we took the train up to Bruges. Holy shit.

  2. I had a Kronenbourg tall boy while in Paris. The only good thing about it was that it lasted the entire subway ride home. I love drinking while walking down the street. It is by far the best thing about Europe. The pelforths were passable….I like Barley drank mostly Leffe when I was drinking beers. I never found anything interesting. End of the day, a decent box of wine costs less than a 6-pack of crappy beer, so when in Paris….

  3. When I was in northern France 12 years ago, apple brandy ruled the day (and the night. and much of the next morning). That stuff was potent. Tasty. But potent. Beer was nothing to speak of.

    Then I spent a term in Lyon, (southeast of Paris almost near Geneva), and I spent a majority of my hours (and money) at an Australian bar that served nothing but Foster’s. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the local brews.

    Interested to see if things have changed down there. This summer I’ll be in Provence, so I’ll blog the southern counterpart to this post. I really hope it’s less depressing.

  4. I was really hoping for a better turnout in terms of good beer since Brittany is supposed to have some great brews. I knew Paris wasn’t going to have much but figured the further away from the city I got the better the beer would get. If I really wanted to I’m sure I could have stumbled across some good finds, but I was rather enjoying the other goodies that France had to offer. It’s not like I was bar hopping or anything, rather I was ducking into cafes and brasseries looking for good food. I drank some pretty incredible Breton Whiskey, Pommeau, Cider, and some good Rose. Not a bad beverage experience at all, just not a great beer trip.

    When I was there 9 years ago all I drank was Kronenbourg, Flag, and Fischer so at least things are moving in the right direction. Those beers blow.

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