The beer scene in Paris, based on a week’s stay after a lapsus of seven years, is still dominated by brands of the large groups: Heineken/Pelforth, Carlsberg/Kronenbourg, AB InBev/Stella Artois. These are the main cafe beers available. Occasionally you will see Jupiler, also from AB InBev, a Belgian lager which was the best of the bunch. Meteor’s pilsener too appears here and there, from Hochfelden in Alsace. Meteor is independent.
I assume Heineken is the same all-malt brew we get, so it has an inherent quality, as does Jupiler. The others, all local staples, had a strong note of brewing adjunct to my taste (corn, wheat, or some kind of glucose addition). In particular Pelforth Blonde, which is or used to be an ale vs. a lager, seemed to decline a lot since my previous visit. The basic Kronenbourg was metallic-tasting, the 1664 version a bit better.
Meteor makes a range of beers some of which surely have character- a Grande Malt looks good – but the beers are hard to find in Paris as the main market is in Alsace-Lorraine.
An option is sometimes offered by these breweries in the form of an “abbaye“, a Trappist-style beer, or a “blanc” or vaguely Belgian white style. Of these I tried the blonde Affligem, familiar in export markets as well. It was good with the perfumy, chalky yeast background typical of Belgian top-fermentation. I had a taste of Grimbergen as well, darker but similar. These are salutary to have but don’t alter the general picture much.
The concept of guest beer seems almost unknown, at least I didn’t see it. This is the system where an industrial brewer allows a true craft beer on the bar it supplies.
The one shining light in the general commercial system was the appearance albeit rarely of Brooklyn Brewing’s lager or East India Pale Ale. I tried the lager and it was great, better than I remember here. Based on a Twitter discussion, it seems it’s brewed by Carlsberg under license in Denmark now. All to the good IMO and in truth it was one of the best beers on the trip. It is the “bon ton” beer of the young crowd and it appears Carlsberg is promoting it quite actively.
This is just the cafe scene, or the beers at the corner brasserie or “tabac“. There is plenty happening at a deeper level, in different ways. There are at least 15 beer bars proper, new school I call them and easily found on an Internet search (“best craft beer in Paris”). They sell craft beers from Paris, elsewhere in France, and beyond, some may brew on their own. I was only able to visit one, Brewberry in the Mouffetard area, Left Bank. La Fine Mousse was the other I wanted to see especially as there was a tap takeover by a Lille bar, but we ran out of juice that day.
I liked The Bowler in the 8th arrondissement a lot, which projects an English pub image but is really just a good beer bar with a changing international selection, both draft and bottled. When I was there there were some primo lagers including Westerham’s Bohemian Rhapsody from England, an awesome Czech-style lager with delicious sweet malt and a ton of aromatic Saaz hops. And surprises (for me) like Innis & Gun’s Gunpowder IPA which had none of the coconut-like taste from aging in American oak barrels and was superb, better than similar session IPAs here.
There is, side-by-side with this newer group, an old-school list of beer bars, some of which date to the 1950s. And here is a good time to say, when you read a breathless description how craft beer is new in Paris, that the scene only took off in the last five years, blah-blah, well, no. There has always been good beer in Paris. You had to search it out, but that’s not so different than anywhere or today’s Paris really.
Places like Au Trappiste, Sous Bock, l’Académie de la Bière, Falstaff, Hall’s Beer Tavern and more carried the flag and still do. There was also the Frog group of British-style pubs, still going strong with seven bars. And there was O’Neil, an outpost of the now sizeable and international Au Trois Brasseurs which started in Lille. These overlap with the newer group and all together offer a lively scene.
On top of this, there were in past days a number of beer specialty retailers, some of which are still in business notably Bootlegger in the 14th arrondissement. So again these join to the newer retailers and the expanded selection you find in some supermarkets.
Every generation thinks it has found something new, but there has always been good beer in Paris and if you want to go back to the 1800s, that was the heyday of local brewing with dozens of breweries in business. I took a tour organized by a local beer group which reviewed this history and impressive it was.
The American citric hop taste is new but it has only penetrated the EU in general in recent years. At Brewberry, I had a textbook black IPA made in Italy as it happens. A juniper- and rose-flavoured beer from Lorraine impressed much too, both in a range often found here.
In a wine bar off the Champs Elysées, an IPA from Brasserie Artisanal de Paris had a strong citric/dank taste very similar again to our IPA. The beer bar De Mory, whose bottled beers are made currently in Germany, also makes a good IPA indistinguishable from our versions. And so on for sours, stouts, saisons, etc.
In Franprix, a ubiquitous supermarket system in Paris, you can find London’s Meantime Beers (now owned by a large group), and other good-tasting beers including some of the more widely distributed Belgian and northern French beers.
The pioneering artisan beers of 30 years ago from Lille and environs (into Picardie, west to the Atlantic, east to Champagne) still do well. Jenlain, Trois Monts, La Choulette, Thellier, Gayant, Ch’ti are the main names. Jenlain was disappointing, thinnish and nearing the mass market taste IMO, at least the regular amber. I didn’t get to taste the others except for the amber of Ch’ti below.
It was rich-tasting, craft in every sense but demonstrated the house flavour, a “corky” taste I never liked.
The best beers I had were Brooklyn Brewing’s lager, Jupiler (very acceptable, malty and bitter), Guinness West Indies Porter – a newish, malty release that needs to appear here – and the IPA from BAP mentioned.
Good beer abounds in Paris, both in bar and at retail. With just a little effort you can seek it out. And what you’ll find is similar to here, a similar range of craft flavours with perhaps more influence from Belgium given its propinquity to France. By the same token, the cafe beers are quite similar to our mass market beers, in part due to international consolidation in the industry.
Finally, Belgium’s multi-generational influence in the international beer arena is a story unto itself. From the founding of the importer Merchant de Vin in the U.S. some 40 years ago, about the same time Belgian beer started to penetrate the U.K., to today’s exponentially larger craft and import industry, Belgian brews glitter in the beery firmament. Through times of boom and bust in craft brewing, of changes in the economy, Belgian brewing retains its lettres de noblesse. Whether this is merited is another question, for another day.