Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Burgeoning Beer Scene in France: Brittany and Normandy Part I

Beer flight at Ninkasi Brewing, a brewpub
with three locations in Lyon, France
People all over the world associate France with wine, and
France has earned this reputation. Wine remains currently the most popular beverage for many French citizens and travelers who visit the country; however, there is a craft beer revolution quietly making its mark. Years ago on a trip to Paris, the only beers we could find were some Bier de Gardes and Belgians. Times have changed.

I recently returned from a trip to Brittany and Normandy. We flew via Istanbul, Turkey into Lyon, France which began our
Owen Ogletree of Brewtopia Events
and Pierre of Brasserie Bouffay
beer journey. We found quite a few Belgium beers still, but at a cute little cellar bar, Les Fleurs du Malt, we found beers from a couple of craft breweries that are doing some interesting things including smoked porters and sours. The focus of the beer portion of our trip was actually Brittany, but before we hit our destination, we made a stop along the way at Brasserie Artisanale du Bouffay. We were charmed by Pierre, the owner, who is a former farmer and passionate brewer of beer. He started as a home brewer - not a unique tale - and moved on to commercial production. He believes in making beer that he loves to drink, and having tried his organic blond and tripel at the brewery, he is doing pretty well. According to Pierre, there are approximately 600 registered craft brewers in France. The trick here though, according to another source, if you want to brew beer (home brew or commercial) you have to register. So many of the registered brewers are not making a living at brewing; although many sell out of their garages and at markets. Pierre sells his beer at the brewery and through a distributor as well. He also has a contract with some Whole Foods in the U.S.

Having begun our journey into French beer, we moved to our first destination, Brittany. There is so much ground to cover that the best thing to do is find a central point to make home base and travel out from there. Of course, you need a rental car for this, but there are many things you could not see otherwise. We chose Huelgoat as our base of operations. Huelgoat is an adorable town with a large English population and tons of hiking trails for working off all the food and beer. We stayed at a cute little B&B called Laura's Chambres d'hotes.
Our home away from home in Brittany: Laura's Chambers d'hotes

The calm before the storm
Although we found many wonderful bars and pubs to sample French craft brews, the best beer part of this trip was a beer festival. Yep, you read it correctly. We found a beer festival in Brittany, France. It was hosted by Brasserie An Alarc'H and set up somewhat differently than our fests in the states. There was no entry fee. Breweries brought drafts and bottles. You paid 2 Euro for a a sample glass and could sample whatever the breweries at brought, but you could also pay for full pours and buy bottles of beer to take home. The variety was fairly impressive. The hosting brewery's beers, one of which was infused with ginger, were quite tasty, and there was even a real ale brewery serving beer out of casks, Les Fous Microbrasserie, which we actually visited the day before. It is on a farm in the middle of the Brittany countryside run by a husband and wife team, Don and Trisha. Another favorite brewery of mine had a bit of a heavy metal set up with a dry-hopped pale ale that was exceptional, Couille de Loup. Although, all of the breweries had some basic styles most of the did, including blondes, ambers, browns, etc, some did branch out with Belgian whites, alt beers, and fruit and spice flavors. The festival even included a food truck and the first organic toilette I have ever seen which used cedar mulch instead of chemicals.

This brewery had tons of variety - including
gluten free beer and one with chestmuts
Don't fear the wolf

Brittany itself is a beautiful region with coastal towns and inland farms. The people are friendly, and the food is delicious! In fact, some of the best seafood I have ever had, I found on this trip. If you are interested on more details or want to plan a trip yourself, contact me with questions. I could write pages on this region alone. Part II of this article will focus on the ciders of Normandy! In the meantime, remember to eat well and drink good beer.

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