French Beer Guide

In a country where wine production and consumption is so dominant it is no surprise that beer hardly gets a mention. To most people in Britain the beers produced in France can be categorised as either Kronenbourg or cheap stubby bottles purchased from supermarkets either in Britain or vast sheds in Calais. However, though they may be difficult to source outside of France, there are a number of smaller artisan brewers producing some of the finest beers around.

In the north of France you will find Biere Du Garde which are farmhouse style brews that are traditionally laid down to age during the summer when brewing conditions are not favourable - hence the name "keeping beer". These beers have an earthy, rustic taste and often adopt the classifications of Blonde, Ambree and Brune, much along the lines of Belgian beers. The beers are often sold in Champagne bottles. One of the best examples is the Thriez brewery which is tucked away in a the small village of Esquelbecq. Their beers are hoppy, rustic and well-balanced with a good depth of flavour whilst still being very drinkable. They have a tasting room where you can get samples and buy bottles but you may struggle to find their stock elsewhere outside of specialist beer shops in France. Even the pub next door sells Stella Artois instead.

Other good biere du gardes are Duyck's Jenlain beers and the Castlelain Ch'Ti beers. The beers made by Pelforth, a brewery now owned by Heinneken, are widely available in French supermarkets and are very good. Some American breweries such as Flying Dog also produced biere du garde.

Whilst the north of France has a Belgian influence the Alsace region is more influenced by Germany - both in beer production and generally. The Fischer brewery in Alsace does a good range of beers including a rather fabulous whisky beer called Adelscot.

There is also some creative brewing going on in around the rest of France with beers made with seawater (Mor Braz), seaweed (Abers) or nuts (Canardou). You may also find a beer called Kasteel Cru that uses champagne yeast to give an interesting fizz but little else.

Five French Beers To Try -

1. Thiriez Blonde du Esquelbeck: Cloudy golden beer with a creamy head and a smell of fields of hops and oranges. The taste is initially crisp and gassy leading into a fresh citrus orange flavour that is bright but well balanced. There is a hint of cider that would make it ideally suited to summer but it's good enough to be enjoyable in a snowstorm.The taste is balanced by a wheat beer breadiness that gives it depth.

2. Duyck Jenlain Ambree: Strong (7.5% abv) top fermented beer made with 3 types of hops grown in the Alsace. The taste is reminiscent of a dark, malty, Czech lager and is very, very nice.

3. Pelforth Brune: Dark, malty beer with a smooth edge, slightly offset but a gentle gas to give it an edge. Akin to a Belgian scotch ale.

4. Fischer Adelscott: A malty beer whose taste is finished off by an edge of smooth blended whisky. Lighter than Innis & Gunn it has a broader range of flavours (though not as much as the rum cask). When tasted from a can it is smokier with a more processed flavour and not as nice.

5. Canardou Biere Aux Noix: Beer with nuts! It's nutty aroma prepares you for it's sweet honey nut flavour with a light caramel malt flavour in the background. Strongly flavoured and cloudy with sediment with the sweetness of a wheat beer, rather than it feeling sugary or syrupy. Very moreish and very well balanced.