Paris with lots of bottle

A new rise in beer tax won't quench the French capital's newfound thirst for craft brews

The middle-aged American in the green anorak is clearly thrilled. He's just started to peruse the bottles on sale at Cave à Bulles, a beer shop close to the Centre Pompidou in the heart of Paris. "So many of these aren't on my list!" he exclaims, waving a thick wad of carefully annotated A4 paper at the beer bottles – all of them French – on the shelf in front of him.

You don't have to be quite such an aficionado, though, to enjoy beer in Paris. Despite the French government's introduction of a punitive 160 per cent tax rise on beer (which could increase the price of a small beer by a quarter), Parisians are increasingly interested in the quality of the beer they drink. Good beer has arrived in Paris.

That much is clear from just five minutes spent nosing around Cave à Bulles. Although some of the labels may be distinctly homemade – this is bière artisanale, after all – it's clear there's a real passion for beer in France now. The beer itself is increasingly good, too, says the shop's owner Simon Thillou. "The quality and consistency of the beers keeps on improving," he says.

Those searching for a Parisian beer among the 100 or so French breweries represented at Cave à Bulles will be disappointed, however. France may have more than 400 breweries now, but the capital could, until recently, boast only a selection of fairly uninspiring brewpubs and a handful of breweries (most notably Outland in Bagnolet) just outside the city. The reality is that Paris – constrained as it is by the Boulevard Périphérique – is too expensive for most brewers.

That hasn't stopped Thierry Roche, who has recently opened Paris's first real craft brewery in La Goutte D'Or, one of the city's working-class neighbourhoods. The brewery itself (named after the area, which can be found to the north of Gare du Nord) is housed in a former restaurant and doubles as a shop where you can buy the beer – and it's well worth doing so. Roche's brews are inspired by the area around him (and named after nearby streets, such as Château Rouge and Charbonnière), so expect beers flavoured with ingredients popular with La Goutte D'Or's African and Arabic inhabitants, such as peppers, dates and ginger.

Roche, 40, says he makes the beer he wants rather than the beer that he knows Parisians will drink. The problem in France is that too few people recognise that beer can be a sophisticated, complex drink. "For most people here, beer is just for slaking your thirst," he bemoans. The uninitiated might think this has always been the case in Paris, but the city once had a vibrant beer culture. Brasseries are now mainly known for their magnificent interiors and so-so renditions of classic dishes such as choucroute garni and coq au vin, but the name brasserie gives away their original intent: it means brewery.

The first brasseries were opened towards the end of the 19th century by Alsatian immigrants, who brought their love for beer to the capital. At some stage, though, this tradition was lost and it's clear that some Parisians feel the lack of a brewing tradition deeply. Two beers have recently been launched onto the French market bearing the names of long-gone Parisian breweries: Gallia and Demory. Neither of them are brewed in the city, although both producers have plans to do so.

To add insult to injury, the handful of mediocre beers that are available tend to be eye-wateringly expensive: it is not unusual to pay €4.50 for half a pint of beer in Paris. The upside of this, of course, is that a place like La Fine Mousse (a craft-beer bar on Avenue Jean Aicard, which served its first beer in the summer) can afford to compete on price with their rivals despite offering a far superior product.

The bar is owned by four friends, three of whom have hosted an irregular beer event called Les Soirées Maltées on a boat on the Seine for the past few years (the other is Thillou). It boasts what is almost certainly Paris' biggest craft-beer range (another new bar, Le Supercoin, on Rue Baudelique, has a much smaller selection while Brewberry, which opened in 2010 on the Rue du Pot de Fer, concentrates on bottles), with 20 taps and more than 150 bottles on offer. Pleasingly, many of the beers available are French – in stark contrast to most of Paris's longer-established beer venues, which are Belgian beer-focused.

This focus on Belgian beer has led to a fair bit of confusion, says Romain Thieffry, one of La Fine Mousse's owners. "'There are a lot of men who think they know beer because they know a little about Belgian beer, and women who think they don't like beer," he says. "It's enjoyable to challenge their preconceptions: 'Oh, OK, I didn't know beer', or 'I do like beer.'"

Some beers (which are served in 25cl glasses, and mostly cost €3.50 – although that may soon increase given the rise in taxes) at La Fine Mousse will challenge, or perhaps reinforce, a few preconceptions, too. Volceleste Blonde, a beer made not far from Paris at the Brasserie de la Vallée de Chevreuse, is nothing like your average bland French lager: it's certainly refreshing, but there's an elegance, a balance of honey and citrus about it, that seems totally natural for a French beer.

La Fine Mousse ("the delicate foam") may be focused on promoting excellent French beer, but its ambiance is different from the classic bar-brasserie. Thieffry says that the beer taps were deliberately placed on the back wall in order not to put a barrier between the customer and the server, while the room is arranged to encourage more interaction. Every little helps in the battle to convince Paris that beer is not just for quenching your thirst.

Will Hawkes is the author of 'Craft Beer London' (Vespertine Press, £10)

Travel essentials

Getting there

Will Hawkes travelled as a guest of Eurostar (08432 186 186; which operates daily services from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. Returns from £69.

Drinking there

Cave a Bulles, 45 rue Quincampoix (00 33 1 40 29 03 69;

Brasserie de la Goutte D'Or, 28 rue de la Goute d'Or (00 33 6 18 53 77 70; brasserie

La Fine Mousse, 6 avenue Jean Aicard (00 33 9 80 45 94 64;

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
Lavigne performing in Seoul at the beginning of last year
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?