My first time going out in France, I ordered a beer out of sheer reflex. Not knowing better, I got a 1664 by Kronenbourg. This is a rather cheap beer similar to a PBR and is in every bar here in the States.
I have since realized my mistake. France is known for its wine, not beer. Throughout my past week here, I have been more careful with my ordering choices. My craving for beer has not subsided, however.
I would like to write a review of wine; however, my one wine-tasting class in Greece does not make me feel comfortable enough to discuss it.
There are only a handful of street corner breweries (brasseries) left on the streets of Paris, although many restaurants and bars retain that name. Most of the beers available at bars (at least the good ones) are Belgian. Occasionally, there will be German and other continental European brews, but not that many French ones.
One day, I stumbled into a tiny, hole-in-the-wall organic food store with the best beer selection I’ve found so far. All the beers are French and they are all organic, so this will be a very niche review.
The first beer I tried was Jade by the Brasserie Castelain. It is advertised as ‘une bière blonde pur malt.’ Not having any idea what this means, I chose this one simply because of the picture of a hop on the front. For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I am an IPA/hop freak. The picture drew me in, but the 4.5 percent ABV label did not get my hopes up for it to be a bold beer.
The beer had a nice golden blonde color, and when poured, looked almost like apple cider. It smelled like fresh wheat, apples, and light malt. The beer tasted very light, but was surprisingly enjoyable and drinkable. Jade was crisp and slightly fruity, almost like a nice dry cider. There was a slight hop taste that added to its crispness and a light toasted wheat flavor that balanced the beer out nicely.
Overall, this one is probably my favorite of the bunch. If I had to guess, I think I would place it in the lager category because it is just so damn light. You could easily drink an entire six-pack without tiring of it, though you probably won’t get very buzzed. Definitely a beer I will buy again.
The next beer I tried was La Nonnette by the Brasserie Canardou. This one was labeled a ‘bière triple grain’ and brewed “à l’ancienne.” This was the beer I looked forward to trying the most; however, it turned out to be by far the worst.
It poured a dark brown color and looked rather alarmingly similar to a coke. The dark fruit and baguette scents interested me until I tasted it. For being so dark in color, the beer had a ridiculously light body. The body was basically comparable to the Jade. The taste did not help out either. Very sweet plum and cherry flavors invade, followed by an odd spice and a terribly stale wheat aftertaste. In the end, there is really nothing going for this beer, and I would avoid it at all costs.
Lastly, I tasted brasserie Moulins D’Ascq’s Ambrée. This is an impressive ‘une bière de garde,’ unlike La Nonnette. The color of this beer is to die for. Not to get overly romantic about it, but the rich and murky dark golden amber hue shines, giving it an impressive depth. It’s what I want the ocean to look like at sunset. There are unfiltered bits of wheat that float on the bottom adding a nice artisanal touch to it.
The beer smelled oddly of ripe tomatoes, sugary fruit, malt, and toasted wheat. It tasted of malts and overripe fruit—plums and tomatoes—that turns into a more dry toasted wheat aftertaste. Although this is not my particular aesthetic when it comes to beers, this one was a quite impressive wheat beer that caught me off guard. I would suggest trying the beer if you happen across it, but it’s not the kind of beer you need to actively seek out.
I thoroughly enjoyed tasting all of these organic craft beers, although I do have some critiques. I think the craft beer movement has yet to hit France in full storm. There seems to be a more passive and lighter attempt to make very eccentric and bold beers, which I am more used to. Also, the obsession with baguettes here tends to carry over into the beers. All the ones I tried had a strong wheat flavor.
That being said, I am sure there are many more beers to try before the block ends that may sway my opinion. Then again, France has never been quite oriented to beer as some of its neighboring countries. There are good beers here to try, but I will probably stick with wine.