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Meet the French craft beer brewers taking wine drinkers by storm

We take you on a boozy tour of museums, fairs and micro-breweries where regional ‘terroir’ is still important

The enormous salon Planète Bière, in Paris every March Pic: e-perez

Craft beers are becoming increasingly popular in France, driven by a desire to adopt healthier drinking habits, and by the explosion of new micro-breweries on the market. 

Statistics show that in 2006, there were 246 breweries in France, whereas today there are nearly 2,000 — most of them small, independent enterprises. 

In contrast to the decreasing consumption of wine and spirits across Europe, annual consumption of beer has increased from 30 litres per person in 2015 to 34 litres now. 

It seems reasonable to deduce that people are turning to beer as a drink that contains less alcohol than wine, but which offers a similar range of choices and complexity of tastes. 

Read more: Four boozy French phrases to describe having drunk too much

The concept of terroir is very much part of French culture — the idea that produce from a region has a personality derived from its geography. 

This has always been part of wine appreciation, and which transfers naturally to locally produced craft beers. 

A new word has even entered the vocabulary: biérologie.

North-East France is beer ‘hot-spot’

It is no surprise that most of France’s beer museums are located in north-east France. 

The Musée de la Bière in Stenay (Meuse, Lorraine), near the Belgian border north-west of Reims, was founded in 1984 and is now a Musée de France.

Housed in a former malthouse, the displays explain the processes and equipment needed to brew beer, and describe the history of brewing and how beer consumption has changed over time. 

It also has a beautiful collection of advertising posters, and another one of vintage vehicles used to transport beer. 

All the ingredients needed to brew beer are grown in the garden. 

The entire collection is curated in four languages: French, English, German and Dutch. 

Go in November and you’ll catch the end of their temporary exhibition ‘Dans la Peau d’un Soldat’ (in the shoes of a soldier), which ends on December 1, 2022.

The museum also has a tavern where you can drink beers and even order some locally made snacks to go with them, such as cheese flavoured with beer, and dried sausage made with beer. 

The museum’s boutique sells more along the same lines. 

You can also arrange a beer-tasting with a professional. Book ahead by phone for food orders and tastings.

Read more: ‘Tchin tchin’, ‘santé’, eye contact: The rituals of French apéros

Vosges brewery run by volunteers

The Musée Vosgien de la Brasserie at Ville-sur-Illon (Vosges) is housed in a former brewery and malthouse and run by an association of passionate volunteers who still brew beer on the premises for the museum’s bar and boutique. 

Some of the volunteers used to work in the building when it was a commercial brewery and are more than willing to share its history. 

The bar is a favourite with locals, making it a very convivial spot. 

You can join a guided tour every afternoon, but phone ahead to find out its winter opening hours. (The museum is closed during January and February.) 

Third generation brewing in Pas-de-Calais 

If you want to visit a working brewery, there are opportunities all over France, but Brasserie Castelain in Benifontaine (north of Lens, in Pas-de-Calais) is very well-established. 

Founded in 1926, and run by the third generation of the same family, it still produces a range of craft beers including organic and gluten-free options. 

They have a small collection of vintage brewing equipment and while you taste a few of their beers, one of their expert brewers will talk you through the different flavours. 

They have a boutique onsite selling local produce as well as their own beers. Reserve the visit online.

Learn to brew near Nancy

Just outside Nancy, a former brewery in Saint-Nicolas-de-Port houses the Musée Français de la Brasserie, which is open despite ongoing works to the building, and is well worth a visit. 

Their displays reveal the history of making beer. 

Under 26s get in for free, and the tour includes a tasting and a free glass of beer at the end.

As part of the Salon du Brasseur (see below) they organise an annual Concours National de Bières

Next spring (March 30 to April 1) they are organising a conference, Art Deco Brasseries, to celebrate the conclusion of the restoration works. 

The museum also offers a range of courses lasting from one day to a week, teaching everything from basic brewing and fermentation to the microbiology of making beer. 

For more information see their website.

Salon du Brasseur trade show

From the museum has grown a fully fledged annual trade show held in Nancy over the third weekend of October. 

The Salon du Brasseur is aimed at professionals, amateurs and the general public. 

There are around 160 stands, plus workshops, talks about subjects as diverse as making a customs declaration, packaging and bottling, additives, craft beers with low or zero alcohol, organic beer, and how to serve draft beers. 

There are also unlimited opportunities to taste and buy a vast range of beers.

Read more: French still love to apero but with no- or low-alcohol wine and beer

On the Sunday there is also a Marché de Bières et Saveurs selling locally brewed beers as well as all sorts of other local produce. 

To keep the whole family happy there are bouncy castles, wooden games and other attractions. This is always a well-attended event.

A world of beer in Paris

The enormous salon Planète Bière, in Paris every March, welcomes the public on Sunday and professionals on Monday. 

There is a huge range of beers to try and all kinds of workshops matching foods to various beers, and opportunities to find out more about home brewing, tasting beer, discovering new beers and the new fads. 

Is la vière (a blend of wine and beer) really going to be the next big thing? Discuss! Planete-biere.com 

History of drinks near Angers

The Musée des Boissons just outside Angers (Maine-et-Loire) is the collection of a sommelier with a passion for all drinks: water, fruit juice, wine, alcoholic sodas, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, and, of course, beer. 

He has acquired an incredible array of objects and documents relating to the history and evolution of drinks. 

He also hosts some quirky events including a ‘night at the haunted drinks museum’ on 31st October. 

He is running a wine-tasting session on November 20, and from November 24 onwards will put on Christmas-themed evenings with free entrance to see the lights. 

All details are on his website

Monthly beer tour in Lille

In Lille, L’Echappée Bière has set up a beer tour which takes place one Saturday afternoon per month. 

It can be booked privately for four people or more. 

This walk around the craft breweries and bars of Lille’s historic centre draws upon the expertise of a bièrologue, who not only guides you to the best spots, but explains how craft beers are made, and how to taste and appreciate them. 

The unmissable visit includes beers at five venues, nibbles, and even a pairing of beer with chocolate. 

Search for ‘taprooms’ near you

The word for brew in French is brasser but very few brasseries these days actually brew their own beer on the premises. 

Many of them do not even specialise in beer anymore, let alone draft beers. 

Therefore breweries who do have a bar on the premises are searching for new terminology to describe themselves — such as brew pubs, brewery bars, and taprooms.

A search for ‘taprooms France’ brings up a delightful selection of bars run by independent breweries, and they are often the quirkiest venues in France. 

Montpellier

To pick just one, try the ZooBrew Brasserie Animale in Castelnau-le-Lez near Montpellier (34), open on Thursday and Friday evenings from 17:00 until 22:00. 

There is a different food truck every Friday, and you get to see the brewery and taste beers with names like ‘Growler’, ‘Big Viper’ and ‘Ibex Milk Stout’.

Angoulême

Another taproom making a name for itself is the Brasserie la Débauche in Angoulême (16), open Tuesdays to Thursdays 5 to 10pm and Fridays and Saturdays from 16:00 until 22:00. 

It offers a range of novelty beers, including one flavoured with Chamallow (marshmallows made by Haribo), or fruit juice. 

The latter is called ‘Kiss My Ace’ and there is another called ‘Slap a Banker’, which gives you a pretty good idea of their light-hearted approach. They also serve charcuterie and cheese, plus wine and cocktails. 

A tour of the brewery costs €8 and includes three beer tastings. 

Pyrenees

In the Pyrenees, the Brasserie du Quercorb in Puivert (11) has a taproom on the site of the original brewery, although production has now moved to Chalabre, 10 minutes away by car. 

The taproom is open Thursday to Sunday from 16:00 to 21:00, selling four craft beers on draft plus a wide selection of bottled beer. They also sell bar snacks and have events like pizza evenings and live music.

Colmar

The Brasserie Sainte-Cru in Colmar (68) has a taproom in the brewery which is open Tuesday to Saturday from 17:00 to 22:30, plus Saturday lunchtimes from 10:00 until 13:00. 

They have eight draft beers, bottled beers, gin from a local distillery, live music, table football, blindfold tastings, plates of bread and charcuterie, and a variety of food trucks in the summer. 

They promise their bar staff will tell you everything you want to know about anything, including the beers they brew on the premises. 

Beer festivals on the rise

Fêtes de la Bière are multiplying across the Hexagon like empty glasses at a free bar. 

Every large town, and many small market towns, seem to hold one. The best way to find a local one is to search online or ask at the tourist office. Your local craft beer brewery will also probably know. 

Summer is obviously high season but the agenda for this November alone includes: 

Baldersheim (68), La Fête de la Bière from October 29 to November 5 (craft beers, large breweries, European beers, election of the Beer Queen, bingo, concerts, dancing, stands)

Rouen (76), Beerdays, November 11-13 (50 breweries, late-night on Saturday, workshops, cooking shows, tastings)

Chalon-sur-Saône (71), Festi-Beer, November 12-13 (concerts, world beers, gastronomy, farmer’s market and concerts)

Lens (62), Festi’ bières on November 25 (craft beers, concerts, local produce, gastronomy)

Mieussy (74), Salon de la Bière on November 19 (stands, local restaurateurs, evening concert)

Bordeaux (33), Et Paff Festival de Bières et Boissons Gazeuses Artisanales, November 25 and 26 (craft beer, gastronomy, concerts)

Related articles

Map: our tour of France by local apéritif

What are alcohol limits for France-UK travel? Per person or per car?

Meet the producers: the Toulouse farmers who mill their own crops

Craft beers are becoming increasingly popular in France, driven by a desire to adopt healthier drinking habits, and by the explosion of new micro-breweries on the market. 

Statistics show that in 2006, there were 246 breweries in France, whereas today there are nearly 2,000 — most of them small, independent enterprises. 

In contrast to the decreasing consumption of wine and spirits across Europe, annual consumption of beer has increased from 30 litres per person in 2015 to 34 litres now. 

It seems reasonable to deduce that people are turning to beer as a drink that contains less alcohol than wine, but which offers a similar range of choices and complexity of tastes. 

Read more: Four boozy French phrases to describe having drunk too much

 

The concept of terroir is very much part of French culture — the idea that produce from a region has a personality derived from its geography. 

This has always been part of wine appreciation, and which transfers naturally to locally produced craft beers. 

A new word has even entered the vocabulary: biérologie.

North-East France is beer ‘hot-spot’

It is no surprise that most of France’s beer museums are located in north-east France. 

The Musée de la Bière in Stenay (Meuse, Lorraine), near the Belgian border north-west of Reims, was founded in 1984 and is now a Musée de France.

Housed in a former malthouse, the displays explain the processes and equipment needed to brew beer, and describe the history of brewing and how beer consumption has changed over time. 

It also has a beautiful collection of advertising posters, and another one of vintage vehicles used to transport beer. 

All the ingredients needed to brew beer are grown in the garden. 

The entire collection is curated in four languages: French, English, German and Dutch. 

Go in November and you’ll catch the end of their temporary exhibition ‘Dans la Peau d’un Soldat’ (in the shoes of a soldier), which ends on December 1, 2022.

The museum also has a tavern where you can drink beers and even order some locally made snacks to go with them, such as cheese flavoured with beer, and dried sausage made with beer. 

The museum’s boutique sells more along the same lines. 

You can also arrange a beer-tasting with a professional. Book ahead by phone for food orders and tastings.

Read more: ‘Tchin tchin’, ‘santé’, eye contact: The rituals of French apéros

Vosges brewery run by volunteers

The Musée Vosgien de la Brasserie at Ville-sur-Illon (Vosges) is housed in a former brewery and malthouse and run by an association of passionate volunteers who still brew beer on the premises for the museum’s bar and boutique. 

Some of the volunteers used to work in the building when it was a commercial brewery and are more than willing to share its history. 

The bar is a favourite with locals, making it a very convivial spot. 

You can join a guided tour every afternoon, but phone ahead to find out its winter opening hours. (The museum is closed during January and February.) 

Third generation brewing in Pas-de-Calais 

If you want to visit a working brewery, there are opportunities all over France, but Brasserie Castelain in Benifontaine (north of Lens, in Pas-de-Calais) is very well-established. 

Founded in 1926, and run by the third generation of the same family, it still produces a range of craft beers including organic and gluten-free options. 

They have a small collection of vintage brewing equipment and while you taste a few of their beers, one of their expert brewers will talk you through the different flavours. 

They have a boutique onsite selling local produce as well as their own beers. Reserve the visit online.

Learn to brew near Nancy

Just outside Nancy, a former brewery in Saint-Nicolas-de-Port houses the Musée Français de la Brasserie, which is open despite ongoing works to the building, and is well worth a visit. 

Their displays reveal the history of making beer. 

Under 26s get in for free, and the tour includes a tasting and a free glass of beer at the end.

As part of the Salon du Brasseur (see below) they organise an annual Concours National de Bières. 

Next spring (March 30 to April 1) they are organising a conference, Art Deco Brasseries, to celebrate the conclusion of the restoration works. 

The museum also offers a range of courses lasting from one day to a week, teaching everything from basic brewing and fermentation to the microbiology of making beer. 

For more information see their website.

Salon du Brasseur trade show

From the museum has grown a fully fledged annual trade show held in Nancy over the third weekend of October. 

The Salon du Brasseur is aimed at professionals, amateurs and the general public. 

There are around 160 stands, plus workshops, talks about subjects as diverse as making a customs declaration, packaging and bottling, additives, craft beers with low or zero alcohol, organic beer, and how to serve draft beers. 

There are also unlimited opportunities to taste and buy a vast range of beers.

Read more: French still love to apero but with no- or low-alcohol wine and beer

 

On the Sunday there is also a Marché de Bières et Saveurs selling locally brewed beers as well as all sorts of other local produce. 

To keep the whole family happy there are bouncy castles, wooden games and other attractions. This is always a well-attended event.

A world of beer in Paris

The enormous salon Planète Bière, in Paris every March, welcomes the public on Sunday and professionals on Monday. 

There is a huge range of beers to try and all kinds of workshops matching foods to various beers, and opportunities to find out more about home brewing, tasting beer, discovering new beers and the new fads. 

Is la vière (a blend of wine and beer) really going to be the next big thing? Discuss! Planete-biere.com 

History of drinks near Angers

The Musée des Boissons just outside Angers (Maine-et-Loire) is the collection of a sommelier with a passion for all drinks: water, fruit juice, wine, alcoholic sodas, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, and, of course, beer. 

He has acquired an incredible array of objects and documents relating to the history and evolution of drinks. 

He also hosts some quirky events including a ‘night at the haunted drinks museum’ on 31st October. 

He is running a wine-tasting session on November 20, and from November 24 onwards will put on Christmas-themed evenings with free entrance to see the lights. 

All details are on his website

Monthly beer tour in Lille

In Lille, L’Echappée Bière has set up a beer tour which takes place one Saturday afternoon per month. 

It can be booked privately for four people or more. 

This walk around the craft breweries and bars of Lille’s historic centre draws upon the expertise of a bièrologue, who not only guides you to the best spots, but explains how craft beers are made, and how to taste and appreciate them. 

The unmissable visit includes beers at five venues, nibbles, and even a pairing of beer with chocolate. 

Search for ‘taprooms’ near you

The word for brew in French is brasser but very few brasseries these days actually brew their own beer on the premises. 

Many of them do not even specialise in beer anymore, let alone draft beers. 

Therefore breweries who do have a bar on the premises are searching for new terminology to describe themselves — such as brew pubs, brewery bars, and taprooms.

A search for ‘taprooms France’ brings up a delightful selection of bars run by independent breweries, and they are often the quirkiest venues in France. 

Montpellier

To pick just one, try the ZooBrew Brasserie Animale in Castelnau-le-Lez near Montpellier (34), open on Thursday and Friday evenings from 17:00 until 22:00. 

There is a different food truck every Friday, and you get to see the brewery and taste beers with names like ‘Growler’, ‘Big Viper’ and ‘Ibex Milk Stout’.

Angoulême

Another taproom making a name for itself is the Brasserie la Débauche in Angoulême (16), open Tuesdays to Thursdays 5 to 10pm and Fridays and Saturdays from 16:00 until 22:00. 

It offers a range of novelty beers, including one flavoured with Chamallow (marshmallows made by Haribo), or fruit juice. 

The latter is called ‘Kiss My Ace’ and there is another called ‘Slap a Banker’, which gives you a pretty good idea of their light-hearted approach. They also serve charcuterie and cheese, plus wine and cocktails. 

A tour of the brewery costs €8 and includes three beer tastings. 

Pyrenees

In the Pyrenees, the Brasserie du Quercorb in Puivert (11) has a taproom on the site of the original brewery, although production has now moved to Chalabre, 10 minutes away by car. 

The taproom is open Thursday to Sunday from 16:00 to 21:00, selling four craft beers on draft plus a wide selection of bottled beer. They also sell bar snacks and have events like pizza evenings and live music.

Colmar

The Brasserie Sainte-Cru in Colmar (68) has a taproom in the brewery which is open Tuesday to Saturday from 17:00 to 22:30, plus Saturday lunchtimes from 10:00 until 13:00. 

They have eight draft beers, bottled beers, gin from a local distillery, live music, table football, blindfold tastings, plates of bread and charcuterie, and a variety of food trucks in the summer. 

They promise their bar staff will tell you everything you want to know about anything, including the beers they brew on the premises. 

Beer festivals on the rise

Fêtes de la Bière are multiplying across the Hexagon like empty glasses at a free bar. 

Every large town, and many small market towns, seem to hold one. The best way to find a local one is to search online or ask at the tourist office. Your local craft beer brewery will also probably know. 

Summer is obviously high season but the agenda for this November alone includes: 

Baldersheim (68), La Fête de la Bière from October 29 to November 5 (craft beers, large breweries, European beers, election of the Beer Queen, bingo, concerts, dancing, stands)

Rouen (76), Beerdays, November 11-13 (50 breweries, late-night on Saturday, workshops, cooking shows, tastings)

Chalon-sur-Saône (71), Festi-Beer, November 12-13 (concerts, world beers, gastronomy, farmer’s market and concerts)

Lens (62), Festi’ bières on November 25 (craft beers, concerts, local produce, gastronomy)

Mieussy (74), Salon de la Bière on November 19 (stands, local restaurateurs, evening concert)

Bordeaux (33), Et Paff Festival de Bières et Boissons Gazeuses Artisanales, November 25 and 26 (craft beer, gastronomy, concerts)

Related articles

Map: our tour of France by local apéritif

What are alcohol limits for France-UK travel? Per person or per car?

Meet the producers: the Toulouse farmers who mill their own crops

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