How IPA beer conquered France in five years

How IPA beer conquered France in five years

From our special correspondent on the hype of the moment,

For years, orders for pints in France were almost exclusively limited to white, blond or brown ale, the holy trinity of beer for generations (to consume in moderation). Of course, there were occasionally a few fruity binouzes, ciders, and other tidbits here and there (all tastes are in nature, after all). But in number quite insufficient to shake this trio that we thought immovable. And now, in recent years, a fourth type of drink has been invited to the party and has conquered hearts and cups. A bitter beer, a little strong and with a pronounced flavor, recognizable among a thousand. You will have recognized it if you visit the bars and parties a bit, of course we are talking about the sensation of this beginning of the decade, the hype of the moment, the revelation 2017-2022: India Pale Ale, also known as IPA.

Impossible to miss this highly fermented and heavily hopped beer that conquered France in five years, Caesar-style during the Gallic Wars. In the world of consumption and sales, we don’t call it Blitzkrieg (the name of an IPA beer, okay, okay) but a “mushroom market,” describes Eric Marzec, director of liquid universes at Iri (Information Resources, Inc., sales data company). Understand: a nonexistent market that suddenly began to grow everywhere. Take a look at the numbers: in 2017, the big French retailers sold 14,000 hectoliters of IPA. In 2018, 27,000. In 2019, 45,000. And in 2020, 100,000 hectoliters, a figure equaled in 2021, reports Eric Marzec. A doubling of sales every year, just that.

The end of the “beerix”

So much for the numbers of the success story. Still, the IPA has been around since the 18th century, so why is it only appearing now? “Beer in general is experiencing strong growth in France,” says Jacques Bertin, deputy editor-in-chief of the specialist magazine Rayon Boissons. For a decade now, its sales have increased 10% each year, driven by specialty beers, and in particular IPAs. »

With this growing success, the public tends to gain experience. “In France we have gone through the classic blond beers, such as Heineken or Kronenbourg, and the consumer is increasingly demanding and curious, in search of new flavors.” No more Footix, make way for the connoisseurs.

The great boom of the craft brewery

A change that fits well with the great culinary tradition of the country, according to Magali Filhue, general delegate of Brasseurs de France. Or “a town that likes to try new products, in search of good food and curiosities”, according to the expert. And because we have to dare to make a comparison at some point: is beer eclipsing wine, which is losing ground? “A beer culture is emerging in France,” confirms the brewer.

Breweries, precisely, let’s talk about that. From about thirty in the 1980s, France now has 2,500, with a marked acceleration in recent years. “For the last three or four years, on average a new brewery has opened every day,” enthuses Magali Filhue. France has even become the first in Europe in number of breweries, surpassed by Germany and Belgium. “It’s easier for brewers to try new flavors, believes Fabrice Le Goff of the Grand Paris brewery. They work with much less volume, which makes the failure less serious. »

Virtuous circle

However, the two trends, the breweries and the IPA, are self-sustaining: the brewers attract many consumers to this hoppy beer, while the IPA consumed in a bar or at a friend’s house “can also push the public to seek a craft brewery, in search of new flavors and more refined beers”, says Jacques Bertin. A nice virtuous circle.

“Ten years ago, when you came to the bar, you ordered a pint. And that’s it. Today you are going to ask what beer they have, choose a specific flavor,” says the deputy editor. Because that’s right, the hunt for the ‘Biérix’ has begun, and ordering a simple blonde is equivalent to a fashion blunder worthy of a sandals-socks combo: “It makes you immediately pass for a person without taste or personality.” Even the students no longer spin in the 4-ball pint. A beer must have flavor and character, not be bland”, confirms Mathias, cruising after work, an IPA in hand. For Fabrice Le Goff, “the French were convinced that beer was necessarily around 4 or 5 degrees, had a rather weak flavor and low fermentation. The IPA has opened a new path, in which many fans have rushed. »

20,000 hops under the beer

We understood the search for taste, novelty, all of that, all of that. But, why is the IPA the one that arises and not another? Because it was revived in American breweries during the 1990s, before being exported all over the world. “It offers a wide variety of tastes and aromas depending on the dose of hops. There is something for all tastes”, boasts Magali Filhue. And in fact, the offer has diversified and increased tenfold in France: from less than 10 types of IPA sold in supermarkets five years ago, we have increased to around thirty, says Eric Marzec.

A slightly less consensual answer for Mathias: “If you have a cider or a fruit beer, you run the risk of appearing fragile. An IPA tastes quite bitter and is usually over 7 degrees, avoid easy teasing. Fabrice Le Goff settles the debate: “The bitterness, characteristic of the IPA, is the least exploited sense of our aromatic palate. So it’s a weird taste, and once you get used to it, you tend to reach for it again.” But also, it’s almost time for the aperitif…

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