Hauts-de-France : France’s beer capital24-10-2017
Hauts-de-France is one of France’s largest suppliers of quality beers and is known as THE beer capital of France.
The region at France’s northern tip, known formerly as Nord-Pas-de-Calais before an administrative shake-up in 2016, has a rich brewing tradition, and boasted as many as 2,000 breweries in the early 20th century*. Today it is instrumental in carving the reputation of Hauts-de-France as a leading force in the craft beer movement. Its geographical situation, an abundance of underground water supplies and availability of raw materials such as wheat, barley and hops, go some way to explain the importance of this traditional economy. As far back as 1890, beer production, essentially in northern France, allowed each region to have one, if not several, breweries. At the time, there were some 1,336 breweries in the region. Many examples could also be found in Picardy, which has also now become absorbed in the recently established, more extensive, Hauts-de-France region.
Breathing new life into the beer industry : the micro-brewery
After a particularly fallow period after the war and up until the 1980s, the beer industry turned a corner in France at the end of the 90s and early 2000s, thanks to a new breed of craft micro-breweries. Driven by a new wave of passionate brewers with exacting standards, the quality, diversity and individuality of regional beer production has allowed the Hauts-de-France region to meet the evolving needs of even the most discerning of consumers. Regional beers today appeal to a new audience, women in particular, have found pride of place in the finest culinary establishments, travel well, and have also found favour on a global scale, driving and promoting a popular lifestyle and legacy, albeit still relatively undiscovered. The current wave of small companies, producing less than 200,000hl in volume, is a phenomenon which continues to gain ground in France, to such an extent that the number of micro-breweries has doubled in five years, reaching a total of 1,100 in 2017, out of a total 1,175 breweries*. This new production model is doing wonders to revitalise a market in decline for the last thirty years, until 2014, and has also allowed the larger, more commercial breweries to expand their portfolio to include craft beers. In Hauts-de-France, the popularity of micro-breweries was apparent well before the trend took hold in the 2000s. Since Les 3 Brasseurs in Lille, the dynamic has only gone from strength to strength.
12 Hauts-de-France beers crowned at the Concours General Agricole agricultural show
As testament to the quality of the region’s beers, 12 products, among a total of 85 medals awarded, were winners at the 2017 International Agricultural Show in Paris, of which PVL Grand Cru and Angelus walked away with a gold medal. Brasserie Lepers received the same award for Angelus in 2015, which is a beer that has done wonders to enhance their reputation even further. “It opens the door for listings in retail outlets and in turn boosts sales” explains Madame Marcan, director of the brewery in Chapelle d’Armentieres. Supermarkets have really got behind the gold medal to promote the top-fermented blonde pale ale and bar owners have made it their beer of the month. And that’s not all, as La cervoise – as the beer was formerly known – has made headway in foreign markets too. “We have been selling it to the Japanese market for three years now and they can’t get enough of it. They like the small 33cl bottles or buy it in disposable kegs” she continued. The Angelus, the famous oil painting by French realist Jean-Francois Millet, which inspired the name of the beer, has also had an important role to play.
Many other beers have done the region proud, including Anosteke Saison, one of the most famous. In 2016, it won the title of best Biere de Garde at the revered World Beer Awards. This distinction has enabled the Brasserie du Pays Flamand to make its name among an international audience.
Top tips for tasting great beer
Near Lens, Castelain is one of the most well-known breweries in the former Nord-Pas-de-Calais. A visit around the brewery provides an insight into the various production stages of the famous Ch’ti beer as well as various other biere de garde beers, strong pale ales typical of the region. At Au Baron brewery, step out on the terrace to taste the prized Cuvee des Jonquilles with delicious Maroilles cheese tart, and savour the stunning views over the surrounding area.
The former Picardy region also boasts a raft of fantastic craft breweries producing excellent beers.
In Somme, in Peronne, brasserie De Clerck, founded in 1926, is known for its production of Poppy and Colvert biere de garde beers, which are generally warm fermented pale ales. El Belle in Villers-Tournelle, craft brewery Picardennes in Corbie and Brasserie de la Somme in Domart-en-Ponthieu are also definitely worth a visit for their excellent wares.
*Source : Brasseurs de France