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One Cannot Live By Wine Alone: Discovering French Beer

Thinking of France brings to mind vineyards rippling across hills and little bistros where people gather to sip goblets of red wine or flutes of Champagne as the sun goes down. But at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto we want to reveal a little-known side of Italy’s cousin across the Alps: the French passion for beer.

Like Italy, France has also been influenced by the craft brewing revolution that started in the United States before crossing the Atlantic and spreading across the Old World. The French infatuation with beer is a recent development, but the country’s pioneering microbreweries are working hard to make sure it becomes a long-lasting love affair. If you want to find out more about this new panorama, then the Taste Workshop A TOUR DE FRANCE IN SIX STAGES will give you the chance to meet some of France’s best master brewers and sample their creations.

Let’s start walking—or better, jump on a bike and start pedaling—towards the Provençal coast. After talking a snapshot of some lavender fields and nibbling some almond cookies, let’s head to Marseilles, where Gonzalo french beer GonzaloAraque, the brewer at Des Suds Fabrique des bières bio, is ready to welcome us. Of Colombian origin, Gonzalo moved to France for love. After a brief stay in Paris, he chose smaller Marseilles as the location for his craft brewery. “It’s a very dynamic and encouraging city for small businesses,” he says. “In fact the number of microbreweries has doubled in the last six months, and we’re one of them, we only opened last November.” But the choice of Marseilles was also based on the quality of the local ingredients: “I use local ingredients as much as possible, like Ardèche malt, Alsatian hops and flowers and rice from Marseillais growers. Everything is strictly organic. I want to achieve the best possible quality while respecting nature and the people who live and work in it and activating the local economy, so that our beer is good for the palate and for the whole community!” The beer that Gonzalo will present at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is his flagship, Part Faite, a Marseillais version of Cologne’s historic Kölsch. Fermented in an egg-shaped tank, to dynamize the process, and then in the bottle, the blonde beer is sweet and light with a very pleasant and rounded flavor.

Ready for an uphill pedal? Our next brewery is at an altitude of 1,100 meters, in the small village of La Jarjatte, close to Lus-la-Croix-Haute, 75 kilometers south of Grenoble. The owner is David Desmars, an eclectic character who opened the Brasserie du Haut Buëch in 2010 at the source of the river of the same name. “Here it’s the quality of the water that makes the difference, you can’t get more local than this! I try to use a short supply chain for the other ingredients as well, but it’s hard for a small brewery, particularly one at a high altitude,” he explains. La Jarjatte is a small village in the Rhône-Alpes region with a population of just 40, offering breathtaking views across the surrounding unspoiled and remote landscape. In this stunning setting, David produces over 20 types of beer, “both classic beers revisited and also some that have come from improvisation, and they all represent my identity, because I put all of myself into everything I do. And I like searching out new flavors, experimenting with ingredients and processes. Right now I’m working on smoking and on wheat.” The most unusual of his creations is the Suprême Grätzer, a very original wheat beer, pale and acidic, with a smoky flavor. It is inspired by two rare and ancient beers: Polish Grätzer, made from wheat malt smoked over oak, and German Lichtenhainer, made with barley malt smoked over beech and wheat malt.

Now it’s time to head north, towards Nantes, the capital of the Loire-Atlantique, or the historic province of Brittany, if you prefer. Despite endless impassioned debates about where Nantes belongs administratively, one thing is certain: This is the city of Muscadet wine. But it is also the city of Charlotte Goin’s beer. The brewery Les bières de Charlotte opened in 2012 and for Charlotte and her partner Chloé Boutrot, the region’s winemaking tradition is no hindrance: “Here people mostly drink wine, but there are plenty of lovers of craft beer, which thanks to many young microbreweries is receiving more and more attention from the public.” Sourcing local ingredients is hard, so they often turn to imports (like Belgium malt and hops from eastern France), which is in harmony with Nantes’s identity as a crossroads of trade routes, once nicknamed the Venice of the West. Charlotte has long been passionate about beer, and, ignoring the fact that brewing tends to be a male-dominated profession, has made femininity her strength. “The work is physically demanding but beer is feminine, and ours even more so,” she says. “They are beers with character, with special flavors like coriander or Szechuan pepper, like the Blanche that we’ll be bringing to Turin.”

Another push on the pedals and we’re in Brest, in the far west of Brittany, where Benoit Corre of the Brasserie du Baril is ready to welcome us and offer his beers for sampling between a crêpe and a galette. The first microbrewery in Brittany was founded in 1985 and now there are almost 60. “This is the land of beer!” says Benoit enthusiastically. “It’s not hard to be connected to the land here: We use Breton (and organic) malts and hops. It’s a 100% local beer, even sales are limited to the city of Brest because in 10 years there will be a microbrewery in every village and the significance of buying local products is also that of creating employment in a certain area.” The link with the local area is even stronger for Benoit because his brewery was started thanks to a participatory funding campaign that allowed him to raise the initial capital to produce his first 500 liters of beer, which sold out in less than 24 hours. In Turin, he’ll be Francia_birre_Benoit4offering the Baril White for tasting, his latest creation, a white wheat beer with mandarin notes. Though inspired by German Weizenbier, it is not typical of the style, because the mix of barley and wheat malt offers a splendid whiteness and a glowing foam.

This is just part of the journey, which continues on to Virgile Berthiot and Christian Artznerch in Burgundy and Strasbourg. To experience the whole itinerary, come to the Taste Workshop A TOUR DE FRANCE IN SIX STAGES, where you can meet Gonzalo, David, Chloé and Benoit, sample their beer and hear their stories. We look forward to welcoming you in Turin on Monday September 26!

And that’s not all: Have a look here at the PROGRAM OF OTHER BEER-RELATED EVENTS at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto and see what other events appeal. There’s something for all tastes!


Francesca Monticone

An Event by
 Città di Torino
 Slow Food
 Regione Piemonte
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