Interview with FHL, the New French Revolution

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08/04/2013 di movimentobirra

FHL Brewers in Bruxelles - september 2011

FHL Brewers in Bruxelles – september 2011

KUASKA What was the beer scene in your country before your craft beer
Renaissance?

FHL It was mostly pale lager. In the North, interest for bière de garde was rekindled unexpectedly when the student community in Lille took a liking for Jenlain in 1979, turning the tides on a dying tradition. The 1980s saw the emergence of sweetish contrived specialty beers such as Adelscott (whiskey malt) which opened the ways to such international disasters as Desperados (tequila and lime).

KUASKA When did it start? How it developed?

FHL It’s hard to pinpoint precisely a starting point. The mid-eighties, with the founding of Coreff and Lancelot, in Bretagne, possibly are a decisive point in terms of micro-breweries in the modern sense appearing in France. A craft beer scene developed, brewing the obligatory “blanche, blonde, ambrée” trio, that is sweetish underhopped belgian-influenced ales, quite a few of them showing serious quality issues. Another turning point is about a decade later, when Daniel Thiriez started brewing in 1996 and was one of the first to move back into hoppy, bitter territory.

And we, seven microbreweries, started the Front Hexagonal de Libièration (FHL) at the end of 2010, mostly out of frustration for the self-compacency and inability of the French beer world to stop gazing at its own navel and evolve.

KUASKA Which beer styles are more popular? American-inspired only or one
“Made in France”beer-styles was born?

Kuaska and Marjorie Jacobi
Kuaska and Marjorie Jacobi

FHL If you look up France in the “Oxford companion to beer”, it’s all about bière de garde and bière de mars. Except it misses the point: bière de garde, is a very loose concept that is as much a denomination of origin as a very broad family of beers, and bière de mars is mostly a marketing gimmick, with a few exceptions. Apart from that its blanche, blonde, ambrée, that is sweetish, belgian-influenced stuff. There also is a trend for “local” beers, although an awful lot of them are brewed elsewhere, sometimes abroad. In the past three or four years there’s been a flourish of “IPAs”, or rather “bières à l’hippa” – as if IPA was a special ingredient: brewers jumping the bandwagon, using the term without necessarily having much of an idea of what they’re doing.

We FHL brewers are brewing quite a few beers which could be called IPAs, but we do not necessarily use the term for them, or do not necessarily brew our IPAs to the expected colour and style. L’Agrivoise, for example, brews an ACPA, that is “anti-colonialism pale ale” because they don’t believe in glorifying British rule over India. Besides, all of us brew a wide range of beers, with different influences, but always including an original twist to them rather than slavishly copying the belgian, british or north american models.
Not to forget half-joking new denominations such as Le Paradis’ “californian lager”, la Véronique Lucienne, which has confused quite a few people already.

KUASKA Which are the best breweries and the best examples of their beers ?

FHL Being a group of producers, we’re not in a position to be judges of that. Let’s say there are people on the scene we respect for their products and their work ethics, notably Daniel Thiriez, la Brasserie du Pays Flamand and la Brasserie du Mont Salève, among many others.

KUASKA How does your association support your consumers?

FHL The FHL is a group of producers, and we do not wish to mix things up, although our manifesto (available on our http://www.libieration.org website) points at many things relevant to consumers too. French beer consumers will have to wake up and organise eventually, but its not what we’re here for.

Marjorie's custom coaster!
Marjorie’s custom coaster!

KUASKA As it is happening in Italy, show your consumers an interest in
pairing beer with food?

FHL In principle, yes. But with most people – including some prominent “biérologues” – still unable to distinguish beer types beyond the blanche-blonde-ambrée-brune straitjacket, it’s hard to get anywhere, because of course you do not match the same dishes to a pilsner, a tripel or a golden ale, although they all are “blondes”. And bitterness, whilst one of beer’s main assets in food matching, still is very much a taboo, with many people on the scene still believing that the French beer-drinking public does not like it.

KUASKA Your personal opinion about next future in French brewing

FHL It’s moving on, and the general trend is positive, but the road is still long, and the dangers of cynicism, self-complacency and recuperation by large breweries and opportunistic businessmen are still there.

Santé!

Lorenzo Dabove aka Kuaska

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