Beer in Boulogne, now and Then

British “beerways” had a definite impact in France in the 19th century, which continued into the 20th century.

In the mid-1970s when famous beer author Michael Jackson (1942-2007) began writing, he wrote English beer was “chic” in Paris. And it has been in parts of France for 200 years and more.

 

 

In the 1840s, in the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer on the French northern coast, English and Irish beers had a good market.

This arose in part due to Boulogne being a British resort, frequented by an upper social crust and other prosperous travellers. Many were passing through, but some stayed for “the season”.

Nearby Le Touquet was similar, enjoying an even higher social status.

A cottage industry sprang up of British-run businesses that supplied anglophones with familiar needs: inns and pubs, bakeries, florists, beer “depots”,  insurers, bird-stuffers, and undertakers.

An English-owned hotel and bar, the Royal Oak, had a good run in different parts of Boulogne in the mid-1800s. Some beers it offered are listed in a 1846 guidebook, a “Tableau” to assist visitors.

Turn the page, and one sees a similar ad from the indubitably British Mr. Stubss (sic), with his beers listed. Further examples are strewn through the volume. Famed Bass East India Pale Ale from Burton-on-Trent is mentioned, among other brands of repute.

At least in Boulogne, relatively distant from London metropole, stout, porter, and strong ale were not yet been eclipsed by the rising star of Albion, pale ale. Porter and stout were likely the major draw at the Royal Oak as they appear first in the beer list.

Lane & Co. of Southgate, Cork supplied such beer, draught and bottled. Reid’s stout (London) was also offered, and bottled Guinness. Lane’s was choc-a-bloc to the more famous Beamish & Crawford brewery, and much smaller.

When the Victorian beer writer Alfred Barnard was in Cork to tour its breweries he visited Beamish & Crawford but not Lane’s.

Still, the latter’s beers must have been good enough to fetch top billing over the Channel. In 1883 Lane’s beers exhibited at the Cork Industrial Exhibition.

Its porter was described as “full, sweet, clean” and the stouts as bitter and durable although one was thought to contain preservative. See details at p. 344, here. 

The comments on Beamish beers are also of interest; the notes on single stout could apply  to many craft stouts today.

The journey of Irish beer to the French coast in those pre-pasteurization days probably didn’t harm the beer much. The North Atlantic climate is equable enough for beer, all things equal. Turnover probably assisted to ensure good quality in Boulogne’s British patch.

Boulogne was bombed by the Germans and British during World War II. The Lower Town near the harbour was considerably rebuilt after 1945.

The Upper Town survived much better due to its heavy stone construction and secondary military importance. Stout sippers in 1850’s Boulogne would feel at home on the hill today, surely.

All in all, a charming place today to wander the streets, tour the markets, and sample fresh Atlantic seafood. Fishing is still important and well-represented in the local restaurants.

Boulogne today participates in the beer culture of the French north, which connects to that of nearby Belgium. In pre-craft beer days the last local brewery in Boulogne was Facon, which endured into the 1980s.

Facon made the peach-coloured, fruity Saint Léonard, a Bière de Garde. 

Facon closed before I got the chance to visit, but the brand was subsequently made elsewhere in France and available for years in Toronto.

Today, craft brewing has sprouted in Pas-de-Calais and French Flanders. And there are lots of beer imports, British and other, in Channel port outlets.

The Canadian Fifth Infantry fought in Boulogne in 1944, as recalled by a local memorial. There is lots to think about strolling in Boulogne, including many parallels to Quebec – in architecture, surnames, some food. Mais oui.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the Brewery History Society site, here.  All intellectual property in or to the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user. Image is believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.