PARIS – With cupcakes, hamburgers, gourmet coffee, and Mexican food all making inroads onto the Parisian food scene, another familiar face is making a comeback in a new way. Young French entrepreneurs are gearing up to bring local brewed beers back to Parisian brasseries, reigniting a 19th century tradition that has largely faded from the City of Light.
Microbreweries, or craft brewers, are no strange sight from Philadelphia to London, having become popular in the 1980s as small quantities of artisanal beers began to compete with larger industrial producers. In France, locally produced beer was common in the late 1800s in brasseries, originally places where brasseurs, or beer makers, would produce their own brew. Mostly launched by immigrants, especially from the German-influenced Alsace region, brasseries became very trendy places for Parisians to congregate. However, after World War II, the neighborhood drafts were replaced by more commercial labels as city dwellers left the capital for the provinces and the European market provided insurmountable competition.
With 3000 brasseries whittled down to about 30, it’s no surprise that today there’s more Heineken on tap around Paris than most any other beers. Those looking for locally-brewed ale have few choices, mostly isolated in a British-style chain of Frog Pubs. The French, no surprise, are the top consumers of wine in the world without appearing on any lists concerning top beer drinkers.
But that doesn’t mean the French don’t appreciate their beer brewing history. Some of the mythic beer labels have reappeared in Paris recently, like Demory, a label closed in 1953 that began to breathe new life in 2009. Another, Gallia, sprang back on the scene in 2010 after the original brew house closed in the sixties. A revered beer, Gallia even won a gold medal at the World Fair in 1900, the same year Campbell Soup won its infamous award. The brasserie that brewed Gallia stopped production in 1968, like many others, eventually leading to the end of artistically brewed beer in the French capital.
Let’s fast-forward to 2010. Guillaume Roy, who began a brasserie with his father in Normandy, and Jacques Ferté, having written a dissertation on microbreweries, decided to revisit the Parisian beer scene, choosing Gallia as the label to revive. With many successful brasseries around France, the men saw no reason to exclude Paris. Marie Thiery, part of the new Gallia team, spoke to SmartPlanet about the venture.
After contacting the great grandson of Gallia’s founder, Roy and Ferté secured the OK to rebirth the beer. “He and his family immediately supported the project to restart Gallia and they expressed pride knowing that their ancestor’ brasserie could again exist in Paris,” Thiery said.
With the label in hand, the next step was to find a brewery. Unable yet to afford a location in Paris, the team looked to the Czech Republic to create the highest quality pilsner they could. “This was just a temporary solution,” Thiery said, “and today we’re producing the beer a few kilometers outside of Paris.”
But by 2015, Thiery said, Gallia should be produced within the city limits, reviving the spirit of traditional 19th century brasseries. While competition from other European brands is one problem that Gallia faces, the bigger problem is setting up a brasserie in Paris. “Square meters cost way too much for a young business,” she said.
In the meantime, the team has not been sitting on their laurels. With a lager already on the market at select stores and bars around town, the brewers are experimenting with new varieties of beer. “The new Gallia beers will feature new tastes, but we can’t say anymore for the moment – but the white beer should arrive by mid-September,” Thiery said.
Gallia also innovates via the materials used for their beer drums. In addition to inox containers, Gallia is often found in 100% recyclable containers made from plastic and cardboard. By avoiding returning and washing the metal drums, Gallia leaves a smaller carbon footprint.
More than just developing eco-friendly, innovative brews, the team behind Gallia is looking to restore a bit of pride to Paris. Thiery say it’s shameful that Paris doesn’t have its own beer, while major cities like Lyon, New York, and Barcelona have all taken the step. “They’ve all created a production site in the middle of their city, but also a friendly space for locals to take the pleasure of drinking a beer among friends while discovering the impassioned secrets of beer-making,” she said.
The question now is if Parisians have yet to see a need for locally-produced beer. Are the cafés serving up Kronenbourg and Heineken enough? Could real-estate be developed for more pressing needs, or is there a market for Parisian-based breweries in a country that consumes little more than 30 liters per capita of beer per year (the Czechs drink around 144 liters per year)?
Thiery said there is certainly a market for local Parisian beer outside of the retro-chic allure of a vintage brew. “The French are paying more and more attention to the origin of products that they consume, and that’s where Gallia finds its place on the market,” she said. Now all the brand needs is to find its place in Paris before the local brewing can begin.
Photo: Lindsey Tramuta