France might be better known as the home of some of the world’s finest wines, but over the past eight years the number of breweries in the country has tripled from 387 to 1,100. This means France now has the third highest number of breweries in Europe, after the U.K. with 2,250 and Germany with 1,408.
Until around four years ago the future for the French beer industry looked uncertain with consumption on a 36-year continual decline, but that has all changed as more and more French consumers are jump on the craft beer trend. Over the past year alone demand has risen by 4.2% and two French dictionaries took the culturally-significant step of adding the words bierologie and zythologie referring to knowledge of beer.
Especially interesting is the growing French interest in classic British beers like Indian Pale Ale and Extra Pale Ale. In the Loire Valley, which is best known for its 4000 wineries producing exquisite red, white, rosé and sparkling wines, the landscape is slowly changing thanks to initiatives like a new micro-brewery launched last year by a local man and his British neighbour.
The duo are based in Chinon where British emigrant Simon Armstrong started brewing pale ales in his kitchen before developing the business with the help of his French neighbour, Dominique Terray. According to Simon, pale ales are proving popular in France thanks to their mild aromatic and honeyed flavour profile; “When you swill it around the glass it exudes a scent that is fresh, fruity and floral, with a hint of malt and honey. Once in the mouth, the taste is full and rounded and capped by a well-controlled bitterness.”
Other popular beers which are gaining ground in France include styles from across the border with Belgium. Daniel Thiriez is one of the pioneers in the French craft beer scene and is based in the small village of Esquelbecq near the Belgian border in Northern France. Traditionally this part of France had always been beer-drinking territory until the First and Second World Wars when many of the region’s breweries were destroyed or forced to close.
Thiriez founded his brewery in 1996 on the site of the village’s old Poidevin brewery which closed in 1945. Today the brewery works with its own unique yeast strain and produces 2200 hectolitres of both traditional and more alternative beers, including a series of unfiltered, unpasteurized, bottle-fermented offerings. Some draw inspiration from nearby Belgium like the Blonde d’Esquelbecq which was the first beer Thiriez made.
These two projects are just the tip of the iceberg, with dozens of new breweries opening up each year across France. French beer is on the rise with craft beers poised to take central stage as consumer preferences shift to more unusual styles and flavours.