Tasting Location: Cave à bulles- Paris, France
"Jack the ripper was high on hops"
Simon, owner of Cave à bulles (cave of bubbles, CaB) in Paris, is a firm believer in the health detriments and damaging mental effects of hops on the human mind and body.
"You are addicted to hops, I can tell," he says as I look up from sniffing a package of hop candy.
"Is it the t-shirt?," I question, knowing that my West Coaster, 'DRINK LOCAL BEER' threads could be a bit bold for the region.
Simon is a member of FHL- Front Hexagonal de Libièration and believes we need to liberated from the addictive trends of the hops. (Not really.) (Well kinda.) (More later, read on)
Cave à bulles
[caption id="attachment_1346" align="alignleft" width="410"] French craft beers get the main stage while American imports get a floor side box[/caption]
Located in the thrumming heart of Paris, CaB is within walking distance of the Musée du Louvre, crowded by cafés and open street shopping, housing over 100 boutique beers, most of which are French made. Thats right, you heard me- FRENCH CRAFT BEER. (I told you it was real!)
When you walk in, the shelf to the left is Northern France while the beers of Southern France fill the right. Belgium is tucked around the corner and the rest of the world get to share racks below and in the front window.
I stuck out a hand to the shop man to keep from spinning in circles like a dog chasing it's tail in fixated excitement. His name was Simon, owner, founder and all around crusader of proper beer culture.
"Of course you are looking for hops, you are an American- you are addicted." He stated plainly and then compared hop lovers to the mentally ill.
All I could do was shrug in compliance and ask, softly, "yeah, so... do you have any?"
"Of course we do! We love hops," stepped in the other shop man. He introduced himself as Brandon, but I knew him to be the American Beer Geek in Paris who's blog (now mostly discontinued due to a bustling reality) had popped up a few times in my searches, and boy howdy indeed, did they have some beers to share!
Both gents leaned into my questioning with charisma and charm, Simon pausing occasionally to greet new coming patrons. I could have put a tent in the middle of the store and lived there for a few days, but reminded myself that "this isn't holy beer Woodstock," and I would simply have to get as much of a contact high as possible.
[caption id="attachment_1354" align="alignright" width="300"] Simon pulled out a book and shared in depth (fairly beer feminist things) with me about traditional beer practices in Africa.[/caption]
Mr. American Beer Geek in Paris filled me in on the local craft beer scene. With about 16 brew related shops in Paris, the city is over due for some beer bars to help grow the love of artesian beer beyond the take come bottle (or box, in my case). He promptly stood from our chat session and returned with flyers and hand-out information on the two best beer sampling locations in town: Express de Lyon (adored by one of my favorite Paris blogs, Paris by Mouth) and La Finé Mousse.
He said that the facebook page of Express de Lyon was the best place to find what was on draught as the 11 taps were rotated often with obscenely hoppy and eclectic beers. Unlike Express de Lyon, La Finé Mousse has a wider selection of both bottled and tap beers from French brewers.
More about both of those locations in the future.
[caption id="attachment_1347" align="aligncenter" width="798"] My Beer Company and La Levallis (upper right picture) are the same company (check out this Paris urban blog for a backstory) and are brewed using La Valleé Chevreuse's brew equipment (upper left picture). What a community feeling we have here![/caption]
Not just for beer fanatics.
CaB pulls in people from the street, locals and tourists as well as a good size circle of regulars. With a great location and tourist season in start Mr. American Beer Geek in Paris admits that a large part of business will be from tourist foot traffic.
They also deliver to local restaurants, wine shops and, when duty calls, help customers arrange international shipping or hand transport cases of beer to disabled old ladies.
"It's pretty simple though, what sets us out from other beer shops in the city as that we genuinely care about beer and our customers. We want people to enjoy their time in our shop and every customer is different, so sometimes yeah I have to carry a case of beer for a little old lady..."
When asked what he recommends most to tourists seeking an authentic French brew, Mr. American Beer Geek in Paris pulled out a beautiful bottle of: Cuvee des Jonquilles which said he likes to suggest because it is uniquely and traditionally French. Here is a sweet blog by a beer hunter who got suggested this exact beer from a trip to CaB.
[caption id="attachment_1370" align="aligncenter" width="418"] Pricing is extremely easy[/caption]
Underground French Anti-Hop Resistance?
[caption id="attachment_1340" align="aligncenter" width="614"] FHL certified beers (left and right) 0 Hop CaB Beer (center)[/caption]
There have been points in French beer culture history when people would get into arguments about the influx of highly hopped beers, often degenerating into name calling: hop nazi, beer racist and so on. Thus the, FHL or French Hop Liberation was created to help with beer freedom, battling against people who have a hop addiction. Kinda like zombie fighters.
[caption id="attachment_1371" align="alignright" width="213"] FHL members demonstrating the mind altering effects of hops on the brain[/caption]
The FHL puts labels on all their supported brews and even puts out a 0 hop beer. How 0 hopped beer is possible you wonder, my friends, well dig this (high on hops) beer logic: 65 IBUs of hops form the northern hemisphere, and 65 IBUs from the southern hemisphere equal 0 hops.
"Because, as everyone knows, hops in the southern hemisphere grow downward," Simon explains with a impish curl of a smile forming from the edges of his mouth. Hops from the southern part of the globe are thusly, negative in IBUs, combine those with the positive IBUs of northern hops and they cancel each other out. Hop addiction, circumvented!
Although members of the FHL don't run through the French sewage system like typical French resistance fighters, they do believe in spreading the word and helping as many people as they can. Much like their historical counter parts, who fought to end fighting, these French combatants are working an underground sabotage of the hop industry. Mostly though, they are still in the information gathering phase, so they need to drinks a lot of IPAs...
Rather you are going to CaB for some hop therapy (or anti hop guerrilla warfare training), a few bottles of french (and international) beer or just to swap beer culture, the scholarly gentlemen at Cave à bulles are more then willing to help. Heck, they'll even open beer for you!
I suggest, nay I insist, that if you, my dear friends and readers, get a foot on Paris soil, that you get your whole body into Cave à bulles. There is no better way to experience the full frontal assault of the French beer culture.
Merci beaucoup to Simon and Brandon for taking time out of their busy beer filled day and partaking in my interrogations. When FHL gets green berets with little hop toggles on the top- sign me up! Until then, Nitch signing off from France, kicking back with a locally brewed craft FRENCH American Pale Ale. Wahooo!