As of Friday June 14th, 2019, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have been doing that thing we do for eighteen years. That thing has, over time, come to involve beer and travel in large quantities, so inevitably our anniversary celebrations would involve those too. And thanks to a pure fluke of timing, we could combine them all in one fell swoop.
Did you know that there's a Paris Beer Week? I know, it's a set of words that refuse to sound right together, like London Fashion Week or something. But it exists, it happens during the middle of June every year, and this year it coincided perfectly with the weekend of our anniversary. Which is handy, because we've had other Parisian beer business on our schedule for a while now.
And before you ask: yes, I know these are still appearing out of order. BrewDogging #63 is coming soon, it's just going to require a bit of a run-up to get to it.
It doesn't really feel all that foreign a bar, showing how consistent the branding has become, especially internationally. All the signage is in English - the slogans, the wi-fi code, the dog bowl labelled 'K9 Hydration Station' which doesn't even work as a pun over here. What's a caneuf? (Though it does remind me how I bought lots of cheap European import cassettes when I was a kid, and how long it took me to work out what the code K7 on them meant.) If it wasn't for the advert for their share offer on the tables proclaiming '97000 personnes ne peuvent pas se tromper,' we could be anywhere back home.
The food menus are conveniently in two languages, so we're sorted for lunch. When in Rome, etc, so along with the traditional White Trash pizza we also share a cheeky cheeseboard of baked camembert, goat's cheese, blue cheese and something unidentified but nutty and hard. Every so often I'm reminded that we don't do nearly enough beer and cheese pairings, and The BBG is fascinated by the multiple taste combinations revealed when they're accompanied by a Jack Hammer or Outland's Walk The Line NEIPA.
I guess that's one more thing that marks this out as a Parisian bar: there's a pleasing focus on local breweries amongst the guests on offer, such as the aforementioned Outland, Goutte d'Or and Deck & Donohue. The one big surprise - given that my main memories of working in France centre around the concept of the two-hour lunch break - is how quiet the bar is on a Friday lunchtime. Having said that, there are a reasonable number of people drinking on the pavement tables outside, as it's the beginning of what will turn out to be a nice hot sunny weekend. So I suspect this one's going to do just fine, although we haven't as yet seen how it plays in the evening. Our nighttimes are already fully booked, I'm afraid.
So: let's talk about Paris Beer Week. It takes up two full weekends in June and all the days in between, and has a similar city-wide focus to its equivalent in London, with lots of bars holding one-off tap takeovers from breweries both local and international. BrewDog are inevitably one of those - just three hours after finishing up our Friday lunch, they'll be hosting a showcase of their Overworks sour beers. But we can literally get all of that back home.
Besides, it's fun using these events as a launching point for an exploration of Paris' craft beer scene. This is the point where we realise that, apart from a couple of day trips and train changes, the last time we spent any proper time in Paris was back in 2007. My attempts at drinking beer in Paris in the nineties and noughties are literally the only reason why the largest number I can say in French is 1664. Beer has moved on quite a bit since then, and happily Paris has moved on with it.
We end up visiting four other Parisian bars during our weekend. The taproom of Micro-Brasserie Balthazar is the closest thing we see to a typical craft beer hangout - authentically scruffy, with bande desinée pages pasted onto three of the walls and Yojimbo projected silently onto the fourth. They've graciously handed over their taps to Piggy Brewing for the night, and we try a couple of their beers that have raided the spice rack in interesting ways, Paradise Peppers (a Sichuan pepper and lime pale ale) and Golden Ticket (a saffron Berliner weisse). Later on that day, the cosy La Robe et La Mousse is hosting an international battle between Azimut of France and Basqueland of, well, take a guess. As it's late enough in the day for our traditional nightcap beer, we pit each brewery's darkest and strongest beers against each other: Azimut's Tzarine, and Basqueland's Churros Con Chocolate. We think the former wins narrowly, but we're a little too drunk to be entirely certain, which adds an edge to our own battle to get out in time for the last bus home.
Hoppy Corner is more like a traditional Parisian bar that just happens to have a world-class beer list: although that 'world-class' is its downfall as far as we're concerned, as they've got loads of international beers and very few French ones. Still, we find a couple of local ones from Goutte d'Or - a spicy amber ale and a pumpkin baltic porter - and drink them to a soundtrack of proper punk tunes (starting with Holiday In Cambodia) that would put BrewDog's playlists to shame. At the other end of the classy boozer spectrum, Paname Brewing - name presumably inspired by their canalside location - is one of the fanciest brewery taps we've ever been to: full brewkit on display, a fine range of their own beers (we sample their IPA, red ale, saison and wit), and a beautifully chilled atmosphere on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
But here's the thing about Paris Beer Week: at the end of a week of small-scale bar events, they take over the Centquatre cultural centre for the final weekend and host a full-on beer festival. It's a well-run affair, buzzy without being uncomfortably busy, with a good selection of food - including what I consider to be a highly un-French number of veggie and vegan options, although that's possibly another thing that's changed in the last 12 years - and a straightforward payment system: you can buy ten beer tokens for EUR 15, where one token will get you a third of a pint of most of the beers on offer, with the stronger ones costing two. (During our Saturday afternoon there, we watch out for the small number of chancers trying to charge three tokens for their premium beer, and are disappointed to discover that BrewDog Overworks is one of them.)
Having been in town for a little under 24 hours at this point, it's nice to see some breweries who are already familiar to us: but the closest we get to trying any of them is Balthazar, as we get to drink the beer they normally serve when they're not being taken over by someone else. For the rest, it's all names that are new to us: Bapbap, Parisis, Laugar (another quick sidestep into Basque country), La P'tite Maiz', Galibier and Petrol Brewing. Headbang get our vote for best beers of the day with their four-day-old IPA (Gatherings) and their boozy stout (My Coffee Is Stoned): while the best label award goes to Brasserie de la Pleine Lune's Sylvester Stalune, described as 'putain d'IPA de la Côte Ouest'.
This is Paris: we can't have spent two days just drinking beer, surely? Well, of course not. We have to sleep as well. Our choice of hotel is Mama Shelter Paris East, a trendy little boutique place - part of a small chain, London branch opening soon - irritatingly far away from several metro stations but reasonably placed for a couple of handy bus routes. As is frequently the case with this class of hotel, a lot of the features are utterly delightful, but it's the minor niggles that stand out. Like the way that the room contains what The BBG considers to be the most perfectly constructed and positioned nook for tea and coffee making facilities, but no kettle. Or the way that the cleaners come in after our first night, throw out a partially used bar of soap, and don't replace it. Or the way that our electronic room keys stop working in between the first night and the second, and the reception staff imply that this is a regular occurrence. But apart from all that, it's lovely, and Père Lachaise cemetery is just around the corner if you want to go searching for famous stiffs. (We're happy enough with finding Edith Piaf. Who needs Jim Morrison, really?)
With two exceptions, the majority of our Parisian meals aren't especially flash - a passable egg-based breakfast at a branch of Indiana Cafe, some ideologically sound burgers at BioBurger Montorgueil, some gigantic variations on the croque monsieur at speciality joint Fric Frac. The food highlight is our official anniversary night dinner, held in the art deco splendour of Bouillon Racine: The BBG is still a little annoyed that my photo of its exterior has an exterminator van prominently in the foreground. She has the mousseline followed by seabass, while I go for chestnut soup followed by duck a l'orange - when in Rome, etc - all of which is fancy but unpretentious, just like the service. Our Sunday morning breakfast comes a close second, at the restaurant L'Estaminet des Enfants Rouges hiding inside the market of the same name. We end up utterly stuffed with scrambled eggs, tartines, orange juice and coffee, and then discover on the way out that the brunch they've just started serving is even bigger.
One of our recent travel traditions has been to recreate walks from our Lonely Planet guidebook, and the one for Canal Saint-Martin appeals as it's a) a short distance away from our breakfast at Enfants Rouges and b) an area of the city neither of us have really been aware of before. (It's in the chapter on Montmartre and Northern Paris, pages 146-147, if you want to play at home.) The promised combination of trendy shops and nice views is somewhat stymied by our doing this on a Sunday, when most of the shops are closed. But to be honest, most of the fun stuff is in the backstreets and along the canal itself, where we see a large number of people frantically sketching the views and then all disappearing at one o'clock, presumably for lunch. (Fric Frac, the croque monsieur specialist mentioned earlier, is a good place nearby to do that.) As Saint-Martin's a working canal, there are the simple pleasures of watching boats navigating the swing bridges and locks (some more efficiently than others): and there are lots of other things to enjoy nearby if you keep your ears and eyes open, in our case a youth band taking a brave stab at their favourite TV themes.
You can't really count that last one as art, though we did do some of that here and there: a photography exhibition in the bit of the Centquatre that isn't occupied by Paris Beer Week, and the thoroughly relaxing collection of early 20th century paintings in the Pompidou Centre. But let's be honest: when I said at the start that our relationship was built around travel and beer, we really should include cinema in there as well. So it's only fitting that one of the highlights of our anniversary evening is a programme of ancient French silent films at the Cinematheque Francaise. It's ironic that having gone to the trouble of finding the Frenchest cinema programme we can, it's accompanied by London musician John Sweeney leading a multinational trio. It's a fascinating mixture of shorts, starting with an 1899 adaptation of Notre Dame de Paris which packs a huge amount of action into its single three-minute fixed camera take, followed by some Lumière-filmed Parisian street scenes shot in the rare 75mm format. But the bulk of the programme is a collection of 'Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre' filmed music hall sequences: some silent, some containing dialogue recorded on wax cylinders, some with pre-recorded sung vocals that Sweeney's band have to accompany live, many featuring hand-tinting to varying degrees of success. Inevitably, there are moments that are very much of their time - your suspicions regarding a clown duo called Footit et Chocolat are completely justified - but a lot of it is charming, and the trio of musicians pulls off several minor miracles with their accompaniment.
See? It isn't just about beer. And aside from everything else, we can now say we've visited every single BrewDog bar in France. That is, until two weeks after our anniversary, when BrewDog open their second French bar in Nice. We'll have to get back to you regarding that one.
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, Dog Eat Dog/Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Outpost Manchester]