France is a country very close to my heart. I met my wife there, lived there for a short period of time and have travelled extensively throughout the entire length and breadth of the country over many years.
It tends to get a bad rap beer-wise, but the North (Le Flandres / Le Nord / Nord Pas de Calais) has a great beer and brewing heritage, with influential brewers such as Brasserie Thiriez starting in 1996 at the cusp of the craft beer movement, and a great network of country gastropubs (Estaminets) in the region serving an often huge selection of beer and home cooked Flemish food, often using beer as an ingredient.
I’ve often recommended a stop at Cassel for those travelling to Belgium, which also received the prestigious ‘Beau Village de France’ appellation a few years ago. There was even a ceremony in the square live on national TV! In the last few years there has been a huge amount of craft breweries starting up in Dunkirk all the way along the coast and down to Lille, and new bars cropping up like the excellent ‘Chope n Shop’ in Hazebrouck to seek such breweries out.
Nationally France is blessed with a large network of V&B bars, usually located in out-of-town retail parks. Mostly Belgian / German beer, but there’s usually a ‘biere artisanaal’ section (French term for ‘Craft Beer’) with local and EU craft gems. Pretty much wherever you visit in France, there will be a V&B close by, but the sheer amount of small specialist independent craft beer stores around the country have usually prevented me having to visit them.
Also, France has really taken to the concept of ‘pour-your-own-beer’ bars, where you charge up a card, scan at a self-pour station, select your beer and pour away, with a petrol-pump style amount accruing on the screen. Personally, I quite like them. One chain tends to focus mainly on national blands like Grimbergen and Kronenbourg, but another chain Beer o Clock has a good range of EU craft beer. You could easily tick off the full range and only pour yourself a pint’s worth.
Spent a lovely 10 days in France a few years back - 3 days in Paris exploring every touristic sight and attraction, then 3 days in the Loire Valley, visiting every chateau and wine producer, then 3 days in Normandy, visiting just about every ciderie. Thoroughly recommend it, although needed another break to recover.
Have good touring memories from France such as taking a Jamaican reggae / dancehall artist and crew for a gig in Chamonix and having a snowball fight for the first time in their life. Another with a grindcore band at a squat in a remote barn in rural France, run by crust punks serving free pizza to everyone, and a sheep called Biquette standing at the front of the crowd in front of the stage watching and listening the entire set. I posted a video on YouTube that went viral and Vice wrote about it Grind Goat Will Never Die But You Will
(The video was deleted by their record label after I refused to give them youtube royalty payments)
Many more memories, but I realise this post is already quite long so need to cut to the beer stats.
499 ratings, putting France in 7th place.
Top rated beers are below, which I think if I tried them today wouldn’t get such high scores, but there you go:
Rated beer / cider from only 5 regions strangely. If only I could turn back the clock and rate beers from all the towns I visited!
Normandy / Brittany is of course known for producing excellent cider and perry, and I fully recommend exploring either region, including the circular Route du Cidre, and spending a couple of days visiting these farmhouse producers. French cider does taste quite ‘samey’ after a while, but the keeving process produces a consistently high standard. A very scenic part of France, with the Eretat cliffs, rolling hills, Eric Satie museum and extensive network of cycle paths.
Right I’d better stop there.