Sunday, 14 October 2012

Beer-drinking in Paris

I love these little reports from newspaper correspondents, where they look at some banal aspect of life in a foreign city. They provide aa small window through which to gaze out on the streets of the past.

As the title has probably given away, this time we're in Paris. A little further away in time from the Franco-Prussian War. You may remember that a big worry for Parisions at the start of that war was where how they would get their supplies of Vienna Lager. It seems by the 1880's that Bavarian had supplanted Vienna Lager in Parisians' affections.

Now that the great "beer anestion" has been raised once more, it may be as well (the Paris correspondent of the Daily Telegraph says) to state the facts of the case as regards Paris. Never within the memory of the most venerable and hoary-headed inhabitants of the city has so much Gorman beer been consumed here. You have only to walk up the Boulevards any night from the Café Anglais to tha Place do la Repubiique to find abundant proof of this. Almost every second place of refreshment is a dazzling brasserie with the words "Biere de Munich," in large : flaunting letters, over the shop-front. Here and there you meet a place styled Café Francais or Café de la France, which, with its mawkish French malt liquor, is intended to appeal to patriots. These worthies, however, do not go there, for they find better drink at the German brasseries. That the Munich beer sold in some of these places is indifferent in quality is true ; but there are at least half a dozen brasseries where the liquor is almost as good as you could get it in Bavaria, and those establishments are simply crowded to excess every evening, not by Germans but by Frenchmen. It is, therefore, useless to try to "run" English or even French beers, with a few exceptions, in Paris, Vienna beer is relished to a considerable extent by Parisians, but Munich carries away the palm, and leaves but little opening for Belgian, Dutch, British, or Sandinavian drink. A one-eyed man could see this after an observant walk along the Boulevards any evening in August. The lower classes of course, mostly drink their cannettes of bottled French beer, for the Munich is too dear for them ; but the Bavarian is nevertheless consumed, not only on the boulevards, but in many of the by-streets in the business centres of the city."
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Thursday 16 August 1888, page 3.

This is an example of how German beer became a hugely successful export in the 1870's and 1880's, pushing British beer asidee and conquering the world. It wasn't just in Paris, but, more worryingly for British brewers, right across the British Empire, too.

As no Munich brewer made a Pale Alger until the 1890's, the Munich beer so beloved in Paris must have been dark. Lager Dark Mild as no-one but me calls it. Its often forgotten how popular and widely-consumed this type of beer once was.

The stuff about their being no room for Belgian or Dutch beer is ironic, given that those two countries now sell far more beer in France than Germany.


Bailey said...

We're always struck by how, in our Baedeker's from between c.1890-1914, if beer is mentioned, it's almost always in the context of how to find the Bavarian stuff; then English stuff; and, finally, if you're lucky, the local speciality. Checking Berlin (1895) for Barm yesterday, we eventually found a reference to Berliner Weisse after a page on where to get Spaten, etc.., dismissing it as rather insipid.

Gary Gillman said...

In Jackson's 1976 The World Guide To Beer, you get just a glimpse of that centenary-old world, via evocative images of venerable-looking (many were from the 50's) beer bars with Biere de Munich written on the frosted glass or door-side signboards. By this time, after two major wars and some development of the European Common Market, these beers sat alongside those of Brussels, Burton, Prague and Scotland as signs of foreign brewing prowess.

Some of these places, e.g. General Lafayette, L'Academie de la Biere, Cluny, still exist and I am sure their atmosphere is old and was a recreation post-Second War of something that reaches back to this 1800's account.


Zeb said...

Anyone know what the cannettes mentioned are? Canned beer started in the 1930, right?

Gary Gillman said...

Here is an "apercu" on General La Fayette in Paris:

It turns out this particular bar dates from 1899, further testimony to its 1800's atmosphere which I recall well from my own visits.

Other reports indicate the beer choice is much like Jackson described in '76: one from Germany (Paulaner), one or two from Alsace, one from Dublin (Guinness), two or three from Belgium (the better known names but still creditable) and an English one.

This is a tangible link to that 1800's sketch Ron reported.


half_man_half_pint said...

In the French speaking part of
Switzerland a Cannette is 0.5L of beer. Maybe meant the same thing in Paris in the 1880s?

Gary Gillman said...

I'd think that is right and moreover that the francophone term is a derivation of the venerable English term can meaning a quantity of beer. A "can of ale" is an old expression long-predating the modern metal can. The French like to borrow English terms for beer, their goudale, godale, etc. are drawn from good ale.

Or maybe it is a derivation of Le Canebiere, the bar-laden thoroughfare in Marseilles known jocularly to a few generations of English sailors as the can of beer. (Just kidding).


Gary Gillman said...

Here in Johnson's dictionary, a can is a "vessel or cup":