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Long a nation of Sancerre, Chablis and Côtes du Rhône, France is hopping into the world of beer with gusto and now has the highest number of breweries of any country in Europe. The growth has been explosive. In the 1980s there were fewer than 20 breweries in the country; now there are around 2,300.
With chestnut beer in the Ardèche, buckwheat beer in Brittany and plum beer in Lorraine, France’s beer tourism is booming amongst locals and international tourists alike. Historically, French beer was almost entirely brewed close to the German and Belgian borders. The first brewery in France was Kronenbourg in Strasbourg, Alsace, in the mid 17th century, producing a pale lager which is now sold worldwide.
“North and East France are the traditional areas known for producing and drinking beer,” says Jacqueline Lariven from France’s Beer Tourism Board, Bière Tourisme. “But actually, with more than 350 breweries, it’s the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes that now has the most in the country, followed by New Aquitaine and Brittany.”
The number of people getting in touch to plan beer-themed trips through Bière Tourisme has risen exponentially and the site promotes French breweries and beer museums, as well as helping to organise beer-tasting and beer-making workshops around the country.
“Historically, the French didn’t know much about beer and how it was made,” says Jacqueline. “New artisanal breweries were quick to organise tastings. That’s been really popular with the public because it’s so novel.”
But it’s clearly not just novelty value and a lack of public knowledge about beer that is putting French beer on the map, as French beers are scooping awards on a global scale. At the 2021 World Beer Awards, the best pale beer of the year was a French brew: Anosteké from the Brasserie Pays du Flamand in Hauts-de-France.
The most prestigious restaurants in the country are jumping on the trend too. Restaurant Paul Bocuse in Lyon now sells around a dozen different beers. Of these, seven come from local breweries, though staff maintain that wine is still the drink of choice amongst the majority of diners.
Perhaps wine tourism and beer tourism are set to go hand in hand. In the Loire-Atlantique, two friends have created a beer-and-wine hybrid: a combination of grapes and hops to make their signature beverage, a drink that they’ve named ‘wine hop’. Maxime Bordelot was a brewer, and Romain Heraud a wine-maker, so they decided to combine the two skills.
“The first attempt was awful,” admits Maxime, “but now we get amazing feedback.”
The pair sell their hoppy wine to restaurants and wine shops and have now produced six different types, including an IPA/Chardonnay mix which reportedly goes perfectly with cheese.
The latest boozy attraction to open is the Taaka Beer Spa in Strasbourg. It’s the first beer spa in the country, where guests will bathe in tubs infused with malt, hops and yeast, whilst sampling beers from the local micro-brewery. Who says that you can’t have your beer and, um, bathe in it?
Five trips in France for beer-lovers
- On June 6th, the iconic steam train through the Drôme and the Ardèche is turning into a beer tasting train. To hop aboard, pre booked tickets cost €21pp. Stay at the Hôtel des 2 Coteaux, a riverside boutique property with doubles from €85 for two.
- Brew your own beer in under a day at Les Brasseurs de la Vie in the Vendée (€145pp) in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, sardine port and watersports hub. Stay at Hôtel le Ceïtya (doubles from €99 for two), right by the water.
- Take a helicopter ride over a brewery before enjoying a tasting in Normandy’s Brasserie du Perche (a standard flight costs €80pp). Pelorus organises tailor-made trips to France starting from £1,500pp per night).
- Go to France’s largest beer festival in Charleville with L’Échappée Bière on a trip including a beer cruise, abbey visits and tastings. The beer festival runs from June 4-6th, and the three day tour with accommodation is €449pp.
- Drink in the same bars as British troops would have done during WW1 AND WW2 and explore the battlefields of Northern France, on Leger Holidays’ Beer and Battlefields Tour, starting from £649pp.