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It’s Friday night and there’s no elbow room left at Les Trois 8, a small bar on the eastern edge of Paris. Glasses aglow, people spill onto the sidewalk, smoking and stretching their legs. Tonight, they’re savoring the hoppy notes of La 11, a beer created by 11 local brewers for Paris Beer Week, the first craft beer festival in the city. The inaugural event is drawing more people than its organizers could have hoped for.

Three years ago, not even a handful of the 11 breweries, 6 bars and 7 bottle shops taking part in the week-long event existed. Not surprising, considering France is a serious wine country, right?

Well, not quite. The French have always enjoyed their beer. At the end of the 19th century, there were 2,800 small breweries in France. By the mid-20th century, production had been concentrated in the hands of a few large producers. And with that switch, flavor — the cornerstone of craft beer — took a backseat to profitability. And beer consumption began a five-decade decline. By 1975 there were only 23 breweries left. Wine, with its temperamental grapes and much-lauded craftsmanship, easily outshone the bland, industrial product to which beer had been reduced.
Then, a few years ago, a small group of people began to wonder where French beer had gone – and more importantly, how to bring it back. Many of these French brewers, especially in Paris, looked to the American and British craft beer movements for inspiration. In the last few years, the Paris craft beer revolution — a revolution for both professional brewers and home brewers alike — began. And it began where it could: in converted maid’s quarters, disused factories in the city’s historically industrial sectors and warehouses on the urban fringe. The home brewers took to their kitchen sinks. Some brewers, like Yann Geffriaud of Outland brewery in Bagnolet, picked up techniques in America. Others, like Jonathan Abergel, agronomist and founder of Brasserie Parisis, fell under the spell of hops and experimenting with beer styles. Jean-Baptiste Auchs and his father, François, started tweaking traditional French beer recipes for their Ox Bier brewery. Then there were the American expats like Anthony Baraff of Les Brasseurs du Grand Paris and Mike Donohue of Deck & Donohue brewery who arrived with a strong set of brewing skills.

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