Beer producers in the far north of France are revitalising the brewing industry, and in Lille micro-breweries have taken beer to new heights!
Is beer the new wine in France? If you go to Lille, the capital of the Hauts-de-France region, you will certainly be forgiven for thinking it is! The historic city has seen a rebirth of the beer-making industry over the last 20 years or so. But these new-breed micro-brewers aren’t just producing standard beers. They’re brewing new and exciting beers, experimental beers, sour beers, fruity beers, stout beer, blonde beer, old school IPAs, double IPAs, New England IPAs, American pale ale, lager, beers stored in whisky, Cognac and wine barrels and more. These new beers are having a ripple effect in the industry and the beer trend has spread throughout France.
The champagne of the north
Beer has been brewed in France for hundreds of years. But it’s due to French King Louis XIV that the culture of brewing in the north became so important. He ordered that beer imports from the Netherlands – which was at war with France – should cease, and northern France had to brew enough for French needs.
Until the 1990s beer was pretty much brewed in the traditional way in big breweries but the new micro-breweries are innovative, creative and sometimes playful with their mix. The new beers are all about brewing in an artisan way, there’s no algorithm for it, it’s about passion and experimenting and creating unique tastes. And the modern beers have found a whole new legion of fans.
There are more than 30 micro-breweries in Lille. Typically, there are just 3-4 people involved in the artisanal production process and they make around 1000hl (175,000 pints) per year – compared to companies like Heineken who make more than 1.5 million pints per day.
You’ll find an enormous choice of bars, breweries and bistros pairing beer and food in Lille…
Brewers feast – where to drink beer and eat in Lille
Best bars in Lille
Le Capsule: Locals will tell you this is THE bar to go to for beer lovers. It’s the oldest bar and one of the most popular in this arty city that’s just teeming with bars. Beer and food pairing is a growing trend in France and at Le Capsule, they do a great charcuterie board to go with the many, many beers you can try.
Draft beers include French, International and Belgian plus there are local beer. Sour beer, IPA, double IPA, stout, Pale Ale, American IPA, organic – they’ve got something to suit all beer tastes here. Choose a tasting glass if you want to try several – the staff here really know their beer. Don’t hesitate to ask them for help and they will provide tips and advice on the perfect beer for you. A real institution for beer lovers.
Knowledgeable staff, comfy chairs and an outstanding, constantly updated range of beers – what’s not to love. Bar-lacapsure.fr
There’s a new breed of tap room in Lille – fun, quirky, funky with micro-breweries making new beers throughout the year and serving them with food that’s perfectly paired with beer. At micro-brewery Hein in the centre of Lille, the eclectic mix of granny kitsch, industrial chic and modern vibrant colours is eccentrically brilliant. Every two weeks they launch a new beer. If the customers like them they produce more! The menu features traditional northern dishes like carbonade flamande (beef cooked in beer) and chips.
Manager Loic Movellan says “Sure we make beer with hops and malt, but we also make beer using mango smoke, pepper and coffee, vanilla, raspberry, mint and lime. Our mission is to help people discover every type of beer, we want to democratise beer.”
This chain has three taprooms in Lille: briquehouse.com
The brainchild of local boy and Top Chef champion Florent Layden – beer and local food that goes well with beer are on the menu at Bier Buik – but with an innovative approach. It’s a ‘new generation’ Estaminet, the Flemish word for an inn. Expect chips – with Maroilles, the local very stinky cheese, sauce, meat cooked over a wood fire, generous portions served with craft beers. You don’t reserve for this one, just turn up. Long tables where everyone sits together, and a vibrant night life scene with music and dancing – and beer! bierbuik.fr
Take a craft beer tasting tour, guided tour with a ‘beerologist’, and even a blind beer tasting treasure hunt with Echappée Bière. There are several ways to discover historic Lille and enjoy beer, including in an iconic 2CV.
Three brilliant Lille brewers
Brewbaix at Roubaix
Brewer Jerome Gervais and his small team make beer in a big shed in the Roubaix district of Lille. His hugely popular innovative beers include meringues, chocolate and vanilla in the recipe! Jerome started out making beer as a hobby at home and people wanted more of his produce. Eventually it became a business and now has a three man team brewing twice a day. A keen cyclist, in the early days he pedalled a static bike to make power needed for the machinery! It certainly got him noticed and he became famous as the ‘cycling brewer’ when he was interviewed during famous Paris/Roubaix cycle coverage on TV.
Roubaix, home to the world famous La Piscine art deco swimming baths turned museum, is renowned for its recycling credentials. Jerome embodies this ethos, for instance using stale bread that boulangeries don’t want to make beer with. And donating all beer waste to local farmers. He also uses bigger bottles which can be recycled. An enterprising company has set up a collection service which supports all the local brewers and collects the big bottles, cleans, sterilises and returns them to the brewers to reuse. ‘Glass is going to become more and more expensive, it’s important that we don’t waste it’ he says.
He even recycles the big cardboard delivery trays, local schools use them for the kids to paint on. ‘I’m trying to think of a way to use my bike to power the machine that puts lids on bottles’ he grins ‘but it’s just an idea in my head right now!’ The re-cycling brewer who makes fabulous beer – it’s got legs!
At Brasserie Cambier, you can go and watch the beer being brewed and relax at the tasting bar. Though production is on a more professional scale than at Brewbaix, they are also experimenting with ingredients such as elderflower. Jean-Christophe Cambier used to be a quality manager for a large German beer maker but had dreams to make beer with more personality. ‘Palates are evolving and people want to try different types of beers’ he says.
There’s a fabulous tasting tap room on site in full view of the brewing equipment. Traditional beers the locals love are on offer, plus experimental beers that a new youth market of beer lovers adore. A local artist decorates the cans and bottles he uses, and he too recycles bottles. ‘Making beer is an art form’ he says, ‘like making cheese and cakes.’ You can also take a tour of the brewery (book in advance via the website). It’s great beer and a great ambiance in the tap room. brasseriecambier.fr
Motte Cordonier was a huge name in beer-making in France going back some 300 years. It was bought out by Belgian brewery Stella Artois in 1970. Now Henry Motte, grandson of the last of a long line of beer-makers is resurrecting the practice near the family’s old brewing premises in Armentières on the outskirts of Lille. 15 members of the family support the project which as much as possible uses local produce.
This is the second oldest brewery in France. If you walk round Lille you will be sure to see the star symbol of the company. The name of the beers reflect its history and those who played a part. Beer Emile is named after an employee who worked at the company for 50 years. Emile is famous in Armentières! He started as a delivery driver and worked his way up to head of brewing. His grandson worked there for 48 years. Beer Camille is named after Henry’s great grandmother. Beer René is named for another family member. So many locals worked here over the years, there’s even a Facebook group of 600 members who all have links to the brewery. Henry has plans to open a small museum to showcase the mementoes he has collected over the years.
Production is not on a large scale – more artisan than in the past. The beers are very popular – from the traditional to more experimental which include ingredients such as ginger and yuzu, coffee and pepper. Every Friday, there’s a tasting session in the atmospheric warehouse where you can buy the beers. bieresmottecordonnier.fr
More on Lille
Details for what to see and do in Lille: Lilletourism.com