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History of Beer in France

History of Beer in France
History of Beer in France

History of Beer in France

The French are known for their pride in French cuisine and French wines. Most people would not associate beer drinking with France.  In fact they probably think of Germany. But France is also a place for beer lovers and drinkers of different tastes and personalities. Craft beers are readily available in bars or cafes all over France and especially in Paris. Beer brewing has a long history in France.

 

Pre-Industrialization

Before the industrial period, a large number of breweries were successfully operating in urban areas of France. The French enjoyed the diversity of beer available in the country but most of the beers produced in the rural areas were only available locally.  

Middle Ages

At the turn of the 9th century, brewing started gaining momentum as private production was replaced by larger public breweries emerged. Monasteries also began brewing on their own mainly for self-consumption. Until the 14th century, monks were said to be the biggest producer of beer as they enjoyed the support of Emperor Charlemagne. 

Renaissance Period

During the Renaissance period, a new law was enacted in Paris in 1489 regulating breweries and imposing taxes.  It was during this period that the usage of the term "beer" became popular. Beer makers only used water, grain, and hops, which was introduced earlier by the monks as a replacement for spices and herbs, as main ingredients.

The Industrial Revolution

The dawn of 19th century heralded many technological breakthroughs especially in industries including fermentation. The beer called Pils is a product of low-temperature brewing, that is in the range of 7 to 12 degrees Celsius. Pils, also called Lager, became popular with drinkers because of its lightness. Pils has quickly become a standard in the production of other beer by the turn of the 20th century.

Such rapid technological advancements started to negatively impact local production of beer in France which had long traditions of brewing especially in Alsace or in the Northern region.

Due to a rising demand caused by massive industrialization, companies merged with other companies or were acquired by bigger breweries to supply the growing market. The number of breweries in France located in villages dwindled by almost 90% from the initial number of 3,000 breweries.

World War Effects

In the early 20th century a big portion of the French Flanders region was heavily devastated. The two World Wars destroyed many of the breweries in the region as most of the equipment was repurposed to make ammunition and bombs thus dampening beer production. 

 

Bière de Garde

Most people don’t realize that the French have a distinctive type of beer called bière de garde which literally means “keeping beer”. Some beer aficionados believe bière de garde is similar to various Belgium beers. In reality bière de garde is unique and is a top-fermented beer that is often compared to a type of Belgian beer called Saison.

Bière de garde has colors that include golds, light browns and copper and is a stronger pale ale.  Most versions have a medium body.  Some of the more well known brands include Brasserie de Saint-Sylvestre, Trois Monts and Brasserie Castelain.    

 

At Present

Since the 1940s there hasn’t been significant new breweries started.   Existing ones keep evolving and improving adapting to the needs of the present time. The farmhouses where bière de garde were originally brewed have been commercialized although the majority of brewers are still fairly small businesses.

There are many other types of specialty beers in France other than the bière de garde. Monastic brewing continues but most brewers are located in Northern France. There are also many organic beers in production, and some other beers like the seasonal beers for March and Christmas.  In all over 2,000 kinds of beers are brewed but the biggest portion of beers consumed come from commercial producers. Microbreweries have also sprouted up and are called microbrasserie.