“C’est dimanche!” At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what he said. As I was was ambling along Sunday morning, about 10am, I saw a group of guys enjoying une bier (ou trois), their empty café cups as of yet uncleared. I smiled to myself at how casual it was in France to enjoy a beer, even in the morning — compare that to Ontario where most restaurants legally can’t serve alcoholic beverages until 11am. I guess in reverie my eyes lingered too long on a cold pint. I looked up, and one of the beer imbibers caught my eye and, smiling, reminded me it was, in fact Sunday — where was my beer?

As you might expect from the land of wine, drinking alcohol is interpretted completely differently in France. Up until a few years ago, 16 year olds were allowed to order wine and beer at restaurants (they had to wait until 18 for liquor.) That’s because beer and wine (perhaps especially wine) aren’t seen as a means to an inebriated end in France, they’re seen as part of a meal, or an experience in and of themselves. And because of that, you can enjoy a pint of beer or a pichet of wine on a Tuesday at lunch and head off back to work — no questions asked, no “aren’t we being so cheeky”‘s exclaimed.

What a lunchtime patio beer looks like in France

So has France turned into a land of lushes, lurching from wet lunch to sodden supper? This shocked me, and I reckon it will at least surprise you. Despite France quite literally boasting the highest share of its adult population drinking alcohol of any country (in 2010 it was 95%), it “fails” to crack the top 10 countries for alcohol abuse disorder in either men or women. What gives?

C’est dimanche. Or alternatively, C’est lundi, C’est mardi, C’est mecredi, etc. The point is not the day — it’s the nature of the consumption. In France beer is basically a soft drink. You wouldn’t want to chug three Cokes would you? But you definitely wouldn’t pass on one with your burger. Well that covers a cheeky pint (in most Brasseries, you can simply order “une bier” and they’ll bring you whatever the cheapest blonde beer they have on tap is, if you wanna skip the menu). But what about the biere artisnal?

French Beer is Still in its Craft Golden Era

The golden age of craft beer in North America is, sadly, over. Consumer tastes have drifted away from some of the more creative artisnal brews, and newer generations aren’t just drinking differently (looking at you Seltzers) — they’re frequently not drinking at all. Even stalwart craft breweries are beginning to find ways to make rock solid lagers and pilsners to widen the net and tone down the “craft” in their beer.

Not in France. IPAs are huge right now. Entire grocery store fridges packed with New England and Double IPAs with the raucous branding and goofy names I remember loving 2015. There were a few offerings when I was in France 2 years ago, but a boom clearly happened since. If you’re an old-head craft weirdo like me, looking at the beer aisle in France is like taking a time machine to a decade ago in Canada. It’s kinda great.

And it makes sense actually. It’s not that the French are out of touch with beer trends. It’s that in addition to lagers, French people have been loving Trappist ales, brown beers and saisons for decades before North America crawled out of the primordial ooze of the Bud bottle. The one gap in their beer resume? The IPA — and boy have they been putting their work in there.

Exhibit [IP]A

And, like the craft craze has quietly been winding down in Canada, it’s entirely possible that France is having its brief fun, and that too will be over soon enough. But since I’m only here for three months, I’m going to take every opportunity to relive the joy of drinking weird craft beer that I felt when I first tried La Fin du Monde at a pub in London Ontario all those years ago. While I’m here (and if you visit France) I hope you try a few biers artistanals yourself, and make sure to sip them slow. There’s no telling how long this golden age will last.

Bonus weird wife shot for those who made it this far