Believe it or not, beer is part of France’s official cultural heritage, with a long and distinguished pedigree. It even comes in several colours: blond, amber, brown and even black. While it used to be an everyday drink brewed up at home, these days it’s the result of an expertise that differs by brewer, all of them united by that special French touch.
Artisan brewer Daniel Thiriez
Dried hops embellishing the ceiling, cosy wooden seating, glasses tinkling, froth tickling lips – it’s a very French scene. You could almost believe you’re attending a wine tasting. But in Esquelbecq (3 hours from Pairs or 45 minutes by car from Lille), a picturesque Flanders village, it’s tankards that bring visitors pouring in. Here, Daniel Thiriez – one of the first to exchange his office suit for an artisan brewer’s garb – opens the doors of his micro-brewery for a one-hour guided tour.
Daniel Thiriez © Teddy Henin, CRT Hauts-de-France
There are now more than 60 breweries in Northern France – it’s a profession that becomes a vocation. Hence the vast growth in the choice of tipples. Flavour and its subtle variations are a life’s work, according to Daniel. And so, I can’t help but ask him: What are his brewing secrets? Daniel smiles. ‘Beer is water, malt, hops and yeast. All-natural ingredients – no witchcraft. Five simple steps that anyone can do.’
French beer secrets
The personality of a particular beer is like the signature dish of a French chef: it reflects the brewer’s personal touch, their sensibility, their whole life experience … So, it’s goodbye to tasteless lagers: French beer is all the rage, whether it’s IPA (India Pale Ale) – which is very hoppy and hence bitter –more mature strong pale or ‘keeping’ ales, fruit and even organic beers. As for the flavours: toast, hazelnuts, raspberries, cloves… it all depends on the brewer’s sensibility and tastes.
Combined, these factors create a whirlwind of gustatory pleasures. Mineral salts, cereals and nutrients compose the basis; if it’s not filtered out, the yeast adds vitamin B, which is rare in other foods. And with it being so natural, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that beer might be good for the health (when consumed in moderation, of course).
Cassel town centre Hauts de France © CRT Hauts-de-France Benjamin Teissedre
Grab a table at the Estaminet de Kerelshof in Cassel – a restaurant typical of Northern France – for beer tastings straight from the brewer and to truly immerse yourself in French art de vivre. Bierlala (named after a Cassel carnival song), for instance, is bound to inspire you to sing and to share moments of pleasure and conviviality in an authentic French setting. It’s all just a question of alchemy between a brewer, their product and those who taste it …
T'Kasteelhof estaminet Cassel ©CRT Hauts-de-France Benjamin Teissedre
Lille’s beer route and more ...
Round off your visit by following Lille’s beer route: a kind of beer-lovers’ treasure hunt organised by l'Echappée bière. Booklet in hand, set out to discover the city’s streets and monuments (the UNESCO-listed town-hall belfry, Vieux Lille and its Grand’Place, La Grande Braderie flea-market, the Cathédrale de la Treille , Lille Metropole Musée d’art Moderne...) while answering questions about Lille’s history and taking photographs. Stop-offs in three or four unmissable bars included on your route give you the opportunity to enjoy a blind tasting while providing you with some clues…
When it’s time to turn in, Au Petit Manoir in Socx near Calais is a charming B&B. Host Jean Jacques, who is passionate about French cuisine, will serve you recipes based on local produce. Before setting out to discover more breweries and farm-inns, make sure to fill up on his hearty breakfast, including (of course) fresh baguettes, croissants and cheese.
Article written by French Weekend Breaks
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