When you think of drinking in France, beer is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. After all, France is renowned worldwide for its wines, but there is an increasing presence of artisanal breweries popping up. In the small corner of southern France where I live there are now 13 small craft beer breweries.
The largest two of these are Cap D’Ona in Argelès sur Mer and Bière du Canigou in Le Soler in the shadow of the famous Mount Canigou. Both breweries now have quite an extensive range from a traditional lager to seasonal ales and speciality beers. My personal favourite, Cap d’Ona was established in 1998 and now has upto 30 different beers many of them using local ingredients as flavourings.
The region is famous for apricots, peaches and cherries and all of these are incorporated into a range of seasonal beers. They also produce other seasonalities with very limited production such as white beer with yuzu and pomegranate or with strawberry and kiwi. I have to be honest, I have not tried them! Some of their more “standard” beers have been elected as “best in World” and over the past few years the brewery has won more than 50 gold medals for its beers at some of the most prestigious beer competitions.
Sitting nicely on the front page of the website of Biere du Canigou is a statement attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” If you are considering a life as a brewer then I reckon that is a pretty good way to approach your work! Again, Bière du Canigou has quite a large range including some seasonal beers. One thing that makes craft beers stand out from the mass-produced market is that they tend to be bottle conditioned.
In the case of Biere du Canigou the beer has not been filtered, has not been pasteurised and is considered to be a live product. In the bottle this can lead to the beer looking cloudy and is best handled delicately. It is very similar to the English cask conditioned beer, or real ale, which needs time to settle before being served so that the end product is crystal clear.
I do not wish, nor do I have the space, to discuss all 13 craft breweries in this region but allow me to introduce you to one more. The Brasserie de L’Ours, or Bear Brewery, is a small craft beer specialist owned by an English couple who moved to France in 2003 and created their brewery in 2012 believing that the area needed a locally brewed beer.
Their range includes a 6,5% honey beer using local honey. Their brewing process is very aligned with the traditional British way of producing cask conditioned ale. I am hoping to make contact with them and arrange a visit to their brewery which I will write about in the future.
One thing that is evident is that craft beers and small breweries have become, and will continue to be, extremely popular. Drinkers’ tastes have changed in recent years and the average drinker is now more educated regarding the taste and brewing process of beer and their palates are more discerning. There has also been a general evolution in how we want our food and drink produced and delivered.
The distance that our deliveries travel has come to the forefront of peoples’ minds with concerns over global warming. There has also been a push, particularly here in France, for more local produce. Some of the artisanal breweries are using local ingredients to produce and flavour their beers in a unique way. The multi-national companies that brew under licence in different countries will always have their place in the market but also, I hope, will the small, independent craft brewer.