Browse any medium-to-large supermarket drinks aisle (rayon boissons) and the most popular beers are stacked high and wide.
Top sellers in 2022 were, by percentage of market share, Heineken (14.1%), Leffe (11%), 1664 (9.6%), Desperados (8.9%) and then Kronenbourg (7.2%).
However, look beyond the big brewery names producing fairly standard and bland lager-style tipples, and you can spot signs of a quiet French drinking revolution that has been slowly building over the last few years: the proliferation of IPA-style (India Pale Ale) beer sold in bottles (bouteilles) and cans (canettes).
Alongside the original big guns of this burgeoning market – such as imported pioneering US brews, Brooklyn East and Lagunitas IPA; the Scottish phenomemon Punk IPA from BrewDog; and Belgian IPA Vedetta; you can spot any number of homegrown French IPAs, with their own market-share-grabbing version of the export beer that was originally shipped to India in the 19th century (under the control of the British East India Company).
The French have a long way to go in terms of reaching the 40% market share that hoppy, slightly bitter IPAs are said to hold in the US market but the growth here is huge: in 2017, French supermarkets sold 14,000 hectolitres of IPAs.
In 2018, 27,000. In 2019, 45,000. And in 2020, 100,000 hectolitres.
The French are becoming more curious about alternatives to lagers, developing a taste for ales with character.
The explosion in new “craft” breweries is driving the trend – about thirty in the 1980s, and 2,500 today.
But the real question is, of course, are the French ones any good?
Having tried dozens, your Food Noter's palate is yet to be convinced…