Bier. Bira. Cerveza. La bière artisanale. Craft beer. Whatever you call it, it’s one of the oldest and most recognised drinks made by humans across the world. Whilst it arrives in our glasses in many different styles today, the fundamental process for making beer has remained barely changed in thousands of years but has made a serious comeback in recent times.
Many of you reading this may live outside of France, so the fact that beer has made a big comeback may not really feel like news worth talking about. You’ve most likely been knocking back pints of interesting barrel aged stouts and highly hopped IPAs for ages, so why the fuss? Well, here in France, things take time to catch on and we’re just getting to grips with the fact that not all interesting, grown-up drinks are made from squashing grapes. We’re also discovering that beer has a valid place in both bars and alongside some of the top notch food on offer.
Cities around France have been quicker to search for something new in their glass, but as with many rural communities, the outlying countryside has been slower to enjoy the benefits of flavour over fizzy lager. But change is now gathering pace and possibly most importantly of all, it seems that the pint is now the generally accepted medium for consuming these mind blowing beverages.
Whilst French drinkers have traditionally enjoyed the strong doubles, lambics and triples of Belgium, a large part of this new found palette has drifted in from other countries in Europe; those which have already picked up on the emergence of tasty, hoppy beers hailing from the US. France as a nation is rightly very proud of its home grown products – especially those created by small artisan producers using local ingredients with hands-on skills so with the emergence of small breweries producing hop forward and flavoursome beers, the nation has started to get on board in a big way. In fact, France now has the third largest number of microbreweries in Europe and every time we travel around to different areas we are amazed by what is on offer.
So why am I telling you this in a magazine focussed on Morzine and the surrounding area? Well, I happen to own Ibex, one of the two breweries based here in Morzine. I like a good beer and we’ve been watching the beer scene grow rapidly around us in France since first opening our doors in 2014. We started out to try and brew low ABV beers with bigger flavour, when most people locally had never heard of an IPA, but that doesn’t mean we were doing something completely new. In fact, the Rhone-Alpes region of France has had the largest number of independent breweries within France for some time and is recognised as having some of its best within those numbers, so for the beer lover there is a great deal to discover.
Producing a wide variety of beers with influences from across the world, from IPAs to fruit laden sours, barley wines and saisons, the breweries in the surrounding area (all easily reached from Morzine) are a diverse and interesting bunch. In the immediate area surrounding the Portes du Soleil we have breweries in Chapelle Abondance (Le Fer Rouge), Thononles- Bains (Leman, Mazot), Morzine (Microbrasserie Ibex, Bec Jaune Brewery), Verchaix (Brasserie du Giffre), Mieussy (K&G), Saléve near Geneva (Mt Saléve) and Morgins on the Swiss side of the border (7 Peaks), not to mention a whole host more as you move on down towards Chamonix, Annecy, Grenoble, Lyon and the Alpine resorts nearby.
Why so many in the mountains? Traditionally, beer has always been brewed in the mountain areas of France and our water quality has played a big part in that history. Alpine water does help to make these beers unique – it makes up about 93% of the finished article and sets the backbone for any beer. Here in Morzine we have a great base water, which lends itself naturally to mid-amber and darker beers, but makes some cracking blondes as well, with a bit of help. It’s a good sign that we are the origin of the water that winds its way down hill to end up in those well known bottles from the town of Evian!
With so much good beer being brewed in the mountains, you’d expect every bar locally to be championing the independent breweries. Well this is not entirely the case. Contracts with the big distributors mean that most of the market place is controlled and local direct sales can be very difficult for the small guys. We’d like that to change. Not just for the quality of the beer, but also to reduce the environmental impact of shipping heavy loads of beer hundreds of KMs across Europe. As mountain dwellers we are all more than aware that global warming could affect our lives in very visible ways. The more local the beer, the more it’s doing to offset the impact of logistics. Hopefully that gives you something to think about the next time you order a pint in the hills. Ask for local brew.
Find out more about Microbrasserie Ibex at ibexbeer.com