Perhaps due to the national focus on wine, good French beer is something of a rarity. Just 10% of French beer comes from small breweries with the remainder being produced by global brewing behemoths, so consequently there’s an awful lot of average industrial pilsner around. Like Belgium, France used to have small regional breweries specializing in servicing the needs of their local populace but despite being nearly ground into the dust across the last 40 years, there are some heroes fighting back and standing up for French brewing traditions.
At Beer Hawk we hunt out these small artisan breweries and refuse to sell the likes of Desperados or Kronenbourg as it simply isn’t good enough. Genuinely good French beer is produced by the likes of the Trappist monks at Mont des Cats, by Daniel Thiriez at his Brasserie in Esquelbecq and randomly by Brasserie des Sources who produce Bellerose, which is partly owned by Gerard Depardieu!
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With such a strong focus on wine, French brewing culture isn't as strong as in some other neighbouring countries. However, dotted in among the widespread pale lagers there are still some traditional styles being brewed.
Bière de Garde - Meaning 'beer to store', Bière de Gardes are part of the farmhouse tradition. Historically brewed in the winter and spring months to be cellared until later in the year, these strong pale to amber ales, such as Brasserie La Choulette Ambrée and Brasserie de Saint-Sylvestre Trois Monts, are generally unfiltered with a complex malty character. Bellerose Blonde from Brasserie de Sources combines classic elements of a Bière de Garde with fresh IPA characteristics to create a modern twist on the style. Another subset of the Bière de Garde style is the hoppier Bière de Mars, brewed in the winter to be enjoyed in the spring.
Abbey Beer - Though not bearing the 'authentic Trappist product' logo as it is not brewed in the abbey itself but instead brewed on their behalf by Chimay, Mont des Cats sell beer bearing the name of their abbey. Les Brasseurs de Gayant also brew a range called Saint Landelin, named for a saint who reputedly founded a number of abbeys.