Our favorite American ex-pat in Paris guides us through craft beers in the City of Lights.
5 FRENCH BEERS TO TRY IN PARIS
When I set out to track down the five best beers brewed in Paris right now, I didn’t think my job would be too difficult. If you’d asked me five years ago, I might not have been so confident, but now that bottle shops like Bières Cultes and Paris Saint-Bière and craft beer bars like La Fine Mousse and Express de Lyon have found their way to the capital, I thought that surely brewers had followed suit.
Parisians may be unrivaled when it comes to wine, but brewing still has a while to go. That being said, there are some interesting things happening on the beer scene, and while I’m fairly certain this list will have changed before six months is up, for right now, here are my top five beers to try in Paris.
5. Parisis Blanche
I’m not usually a huge fan of blanche, which is the French term typically used to describe witbier or other wheat beers. The Parisis Triple is more my style, but when I found the blanche, at my local supermarket no less, and saw that it had won the gold medal at the Concours Général Agricole in 2013, I had to pick it up.
Parisis brews in Épinay-sous-Sénart, just outside of the city limits. The brewers call it an authentic beer, taking its name from the Gaulish tribe who inhabited Paris before the Romans. In other words, it’s as Parisian as they come. It’s not a complex beer by any means, but it’s the sort of beer you could drink all day in the summer. It’s fresh and lightly citrusy with just the right amount of wheaty, malty flavor, and a relatively low alcohol content. There’s a touch of bitterness on the finish that’s very nice.
Suggested Food Pairings: I would pair this with a different play on mussels à la marinière, with thinly sliced fennel mixed in with the base and a touch of the beer itself in place of the wine, to play off that light bitterness that's so refreshing.
4. Grand Paris Smoke on the Water
While composing this list, I tasted two beers from this team of brewers in Levallois. The two brewers ― an American and a Frenchman ― are self-described lovers of hops, and it showed in the beers I tasted ― a Citra IPA and this smoked beer that really caught my eye (or rather my tongue).
The beer has a smoky, malty aroma with an unexpected whiff of sourdough. I couldn't stop smelling it. As for the taste, there's a clear smoky flavor that reminds me of the beechwood smoking that’s so common here in France, but only the bitterness remains in the finish.
Suggested Food Pairings: This beer will shine with a dish that's slightly sweet and rich in umami; the two will play off one another beautifully. I love it with any dish featuring oven-roasted tomatoes, like a chicken caprese or a tomato risotto. Be sure to char the tomato skins in the oven, as this light smokiness will be all you need to nicely pair the beer and the meal.
3. Deck & Donohue Monk
Two beers on this list came from the same brewery. I tried to avoid having that happen, but this brewery impressed me twice. Deck & Donohue is based in Montreuil, run by Thomas Deck and Mike Donohue (thus the name), a Frenchman and an American. Their craft beers are brewed in small batches with 10 years of know-how ― and it shows.
Monk is a brown ale that, at first smell and taste, is chocolate. To be even more precise, it has the smell and taste of an old-school soda fountain chocolate soda, with just the right amount of effervescence to remind you that it’s actually a beer. And yet this light ale has more to it than meets the nose. You never quite lose the chocolate aroma, but after it warms up a bit, the toastiness shines through, as do a few lighter berry notes. The most surprising thing about this ale is how rich it can be in flavor while still remaining so light.
Suggested Food Pairings: Monk is an ideal beer to enjoy before or after a meal, or even as a dessert pairing. It’s tempting to pair a beer as rich and chocolaty as this with chocolate. But I prefer to let the beer stand in for chocolate by pairing it with something you'd serve with a rich chocolate cake. Here in France, that would be crème anglaise or custard cream, so a vanilla bean crème brûlée would be an excellent pairing choice.
2. Vexin La Véliocasse
Les Bières du Vexin was created in 2001 with just two brews ― a blonde and an amber, but the beer that struck me from this small brewery was an unfiltered, honey-flavored beer with a touch of wheat in the mix and 7% ABV.
Once poured, Véliocasse even looks like honey. It has tiny bubbles and a nice viscosity as well as a deep amber color. The flavor is quite extraordinary: there’s a nice kick of alcohol that’s more reminiscent of mead than beer, a full body with a bright finish and a deep, woody aftertaste. As I was drinking it, I couldn't shake the sensation that it was something more akin to whiskey ― bright and flavorful with a boozy punch at the front of the palate, and a nice richness and slow warmth on the back. The beer won the World’s Best Honey Beer title in 2014, so I’m in good company when I say that this is definitely one to try.
Suggested Food Pairings: Véliocasse would overpower most main dishes, but it would be excellent served as an apéritif with a cheese plate. Choose richly flavored hard cheeses with a good amount of nuttiness, like aged cheddar or gruyère. Keep the cheese plate interesting by including a cheese from each common milk type: a gruyère for cow's milk, an ossau iraty for sheep and a tomme de chèvre for goat. Because the beer itself is sweet, choose more savory accompaniments like nuts, cured meats or tomato chutney.
1. Deck & Donohue Trouble #6
Deck & Donohue is back for the number one beer on this list: Trouble #6. Anglophones may laugh at the name, though its real source is from the French trouble or cloudy. This unfiltered beer is the brewers’ interpretation of an old-fashioned farm beer, brewed with a mix of four grains ― barley, wheat, rye and oats ― as well as Alsatian hops. The result is what the French would call a blonde, a light beer with herbal notes and a dry finish.
This beer has a nice, creamy head that lasts. The aromas are clearly hoppy and earthy yet fresh. The flavor is well-rounded with a light, malty sweetness and just the right amount of bitterness for balance.
There are many reasons this beer is number one on the list. It’s tasty. It’s well made. It also exemplifies that blonde style of beer that the French are so accustomed to, and that is the main reason I chose to make Trouble #6 number one on the list of five beers to try in Paris. They’re branching out and trying new things, and I have no doubt that we’re in for more than a few treats as French brewing continues to develop, but it’s important to remember where we’re coming from, and the blonde, as a style, is a good jumping-off point ― and this is an excellent example of what happens when the blonde is done right.
Suggested Food Pairings: This is a beer that can pair well with a wide variety of foods. I suggest serving it with a burger bar; allow your guests to assemble beef, chicken or veggie burgers with a variety of toppings, such as different cheeses, lettuces, raw and caramelized onions and mushrooms. No matter what combo they choose, Trouble #6 will be a great pair!
Have a favorite French beer you'd like to add to this list? Let us know in comments.