France and Paris may look late on the craft-beer issue compared to the United States but some people are discreetly working on it, and there has been here in the recent years actually a burgeoning number of new artisan breweries all over the country, which could help us rub elbows with older members of the club on the continent, like Germany and Belgium (still way ahead for sure).
France had actually in the past a strong local-beer sector but I guess that the same ill-fated economic choices that dismantled our Mittelstand industry after WW2 also threw out the small breweries with the bathwater, leaving us in the 1970s' and 1980s' with only a handful of industrial breweries, which paved the way later for Heineken's inroad in this desertified beer landscape.
When you intend to create a beer, the flavor-testing stage is very important, it usually involves peers and associates or friends who are called for advice and opinions. I'm new to it and it looks like tasting but it is more like testing because you'll be finetuning the aromatic edge and other parameters that will make your beer stand out through a unique recipe.
Pierre Guigui who is the Wine Man at Gault & Millau and heads the Concours Amphore (an international competition for organic wines) is currently in the process of making a beer of his own. This is still the experimental stage of the project and Pierre and his wife Laurence wanted us to taste 5 versions of their beer.
We were maybe 30 people that monday (including fellow bloggers) sitting at L'Hédoniste, a wine bar in the vicinity of the rue Montorgueil, but although the wine list of the bar was pretty appealing, we were here for beers. Pierre Guigui explained that he was up to making a craft beer that pairs well with food, beginning with either fish or white meat or both. The beer we were going to taste that evening was from a 20-liter batch which Pierre split into 5 different beers that we'd test for aroma and pairing properties, each of these beers having had a flavoring parameter that we had to appreciate blind. We were given a printed form for our comments and were invited to check boxes to tell if the beer was bad, so-so, fine, excellent or just terrific, and also if it seemed to pair well with seafood, white meat or was better on its own as apéritif.
These beers were 3 weeks old, it's indeed so much shorter than with winemaking...
__ The 2nd beer was very aromatic even on the nose, Pierre told us later that this version had some sage leaves added. On the nose, aromas of ripe flowers.
__ The 3rd was onctuous and had also this slight bitterness, but I was not fully convinced. There's some gingimber in it.
__ The 4th beer had a beautiful, exciting nose, with something like elderberry notes or grenadine, nice in the mouth too. People around me had their own idea about what was added but we were all wrong, it was actually lemon peel. Nice beer for sure.
__ The 5th beer had in my feeling a nice substance, still with this unfiltered quality and the lighness on the alcohol side. Aromas of wilted flowers, hard to decribe but very nice. Actually here Pierre added both gingimber and lemon peel. I think this one was felt as being the best by the testers in this room. As for the pairing properties I checked a couple of times the seafood and the white-meat boxes on my sheet of paper but I had a hard time not to concentrate on the pleasure of the beer by itself.
Pierre told me later that he had to keep working on the beer and the recipe, he said that many people wanted a beer with an a chewy substance, a nourishing beer (it's my case too) but he says that he is looking for something different, and he isn't going to add wheat just to increase the middle-mouth part. Right now he listens to people and he will adapt all the while keeping focused on his beer with pairing abilities.
This craft-beer testing session was a first step for Pierre Guigui on the path to THE beer that will pair beautifully with food, and we're looking forward for more surprises coming out of his bathroom...
Aticle in French on L'Express about the ongoing craft-beer movement in France.