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France: Beers to Keep

France is not one of Europe’s major brewing nations, yet brewing is still an important activity in some regions. Most of the pale, vaguely pilsner-like beers that are so widely consumed in cafés throughout the land come from the region of Alsace, along the German border in northeastern France. Alsace produces most of the beer brewed in France, a logical consequence of its strong German influence. Fischer and Kronenbourg are the most popular brands of bière d’Alsace that consumers will encounter in the United States.

Northern France, encompassing French Flanders, Picardy, and the Pas de Calais, is home to a style of beer, bière de garde (literally, "keeping beer"), that is treasured by beer connoisseurs. Bière de gardes, once an endangered species, have undergone a revival in the latter half of the 20th century. Spicy, strong,

malt-accented, and packaged in 750-ml bottles with a wire-caged cork stopper, these beers can cosmetically pass themselves off as Belgian ales. They are France’s greatest and most distinctive beers. At least half a dozen of the 20 or so producers of bière de garde export to the United States.

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