How IPA beer conquered France in five years

From our special correspondent in the hype of the moment,

For years, orders for pints in France were almost exclusively limited to white, blonde or brown beer, the holy trinity of beer for generations (to be consumed in moderation). Of course, there were occasionally a few fruity binouzes, ciders and other curiosities here and there (all tastes are in nature, after all). But in quite insufficient numbers to shake up this trio that we thought was irremovable. And now, in recent years, a fourth type of beverage has been invited to the party and has conquered hearts and mugs. A bitter beer, a little strong and with a pronounced taste, recognizable among a thousand. You have recognized it if you scour the bars and parties a bit, we are of course talking about the sensation of this beginning of the decade, the hype of the moment, the 2017-2022 revelation: India Pale Ale, aka the IPA.

Impossible to miss this top-fermented and strongly hopped beer as it conquered France in five years, Caesar style during the Gallic Wars. In the world of consumption and sales, we don’t call it a Blitzkrieg (the name of an IPA beer, well, well) but a “mushroom market”, describes Eric Marzec, director of liquid universes at the Iri (Information Resources, Inc., sales data company). Understand: a non-existent market that suddenly began to grow everywhere. Take a look at the numbers: in 2017, French mass 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, informs 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 popping only now? “Beer is generally experiencing strong growth in France,” says Jacques Bertin, deputy editor-in-chief of the specialist magazine Rayon Boissons. For a decade, its sales have increased by 10% each year, driven by specialty beers, and in particular the IPA. »

With this growing success, the public tends to gain expertise. “In France, we have done the rounds of classic blond beer, such as Heineken or Kronenbourg, and the consumer is becoming more demanding and curious, in search of new tastes”. No more Footix, make way for connoisseurs.

The great craft brewery boom

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 people who like to test 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 overshadowing wine, which is losing ground? “A beer culture is emerging in France,” confirms the brewer.

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

Virtuous circle

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

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

20,000 hops under the beer

We understood the search for taste, novelty, all that, all that. But why is it the IPA that emerges, and not another? Because it was revived in American breweries during the 1990s, before being exported worldwide. “It offers a wide variety of tastes and flavors depending on the hop dosage. There is something for everyone,” boasts Magali Filhue. And indeed, 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 little less consensual answer for Mathias: “If you take a cider or a fruit beer, you risk coming across as fragile. An IPA has a rather bitter taste and it’s generally at more than 7 degrees, it avoids easy mockery. Fabrice Le Goff settles the debate: “Bitterness, characteristic of the IPA, is the least exploited sense of our aromatic palate. So it’s a rare taste, and once you get used to it, you tend to seek it out again.” But besides, it’s almost time for the aperitif…

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