On a rainy evening in January, I ducked into Les Trois 8  in the 11th arrondissement and ordered a red ale from Bendorf brewery in Strasbourg. It’s one of the over 500 breweries currently operating in France, but there’s a good chance most Parisians have never heard of it, or the seven other French beers on tap that evening. Hopefully that will change in May when the first-ever Paris Beer Week  takes over the city.
“Paris is one of the world’s most visited cities and we don’t have a craft beer week!” said Romain Lebel, president of Bière et Papilles, the organization overseeing the event, as he explained the craft beer community’s desire to increase awareness about the movement’s growth in France. Initiated by Yann Geffriaud of Outland Brewery in Bagnolet and supported by the city’s craft beer scene, Paris Beer Week emulates similar events in North America, notably the Brewers Association’s American Craft Beer Week, which celebrates the culture and community of craft beer.
Much like the recipe for a new homebrew, Paris Beer Week was dreamed up by a few friends over a couple of pints. Besides being the occasion to put great artisan beer in the spotlight, the event is intended to embody the creative, democratic ideals of beer. In the spirit of inclusion familiar to anyone who drinks craft beer, any business that wants to support the movement is welcome to host an event during the week. The small participation fee goes toward promotion of the festival, which is handled by Bières et Papilles. “The fee to join was set at 100€ so that anyone who wants to would be able to get involved,” said Romain.
Attitudes towards beer in France are changing, but there’s still work to be done to raise awareness and educate the public palate. Paris Beer Week intends to do that with a variety of events across the city: blind tastings, home brewer competitions, food pairings and professional conferences are just some of the things being cooked up by Paris’s tight network of bars, breweries and bottle shops. “We wanted each participant to feel free to plan their own event according to what they feel best represents their relationship to craft beer,” said Romain.
As I finished my red ale, the conversation turned to the challenges facing small breweries in France and what the future might look like. It’s hard to make a comparison with the United States because the world has changed in the thirty years since the craft beer movement emerged there; but it’s clear that building a strong community played a big part in sustaining momentum. Promoting craft beer in Paris, educating the public and bringing the beer community together to offer the city a week of good beer and good times seems the natural next step here in France. “If everyone has fun, we’ll consider it a success,” says Romain. “But we also want to make a big impact and let people know that Paris finally has a craft beer movement.” Cheers to that.
Paris Beer Week  will take place May 24 to June 1, 2014.
Unabashedly gourmande, Kate Robinson can regularly be found sleuthing out the best watering holes, secret gardens and food joints in Paris.