What else can I say about French beer? Most informed beer drinkers laugh and pigeonhole French beer solely on Kronenbourg 1664. And perhaps that’s not too far from the truth. But if you’re in France, take the opportunity to enjoy a another unique French beer: Pelforth.
Unless you’re a frequent visitor to France, you’re probably unaware – just as I was – of this delightfully tasty beer, which comes in both Brown and Blonde varieties.* I first discovered Pelforth in a small corner bistro in Paris’s Dupleix neighborhood, just southwest of the Eiffel Tower. Before Pelforth, my universe of French beer consisted solely of Kronenbourg; I was thus eager to expand my horizons.
While the bistro’s menu listed both brune and blonde varieties, I tried the brown first (I’m typically partial to dark beer over light) and was immediately a fan: it was slightly sweet, medium bodied, and left a pleasant and light malty aftertaste. After returning to our hotel after dinner, I hopped on the internet – courtesy of the hotel’s free wi-fi – and started researching.
Coincidentally – amazingly so! – Toby Cecchini profiled Pelforth in a New York Times Magazine article titled Case Study: The Pull of Pelforth. The article’s date: March 19, 2012 – the day before I discovered the beer!
Cecchini’s article provided an interesting read for his American audience for one key reason: ”There’s nothing rare or precious about Pelforth. It’s available in most cafe-bars and supermarkets in France, where it’s one of the most widely consumed beers… But it’s rarer than rare here: it doesn’t exist. Unlike most worthwhile French products, somehow the powers that govern Pelforth Brune have never seen fit to export it to the United States.”
While its rarity is certainly interesting, it’s not the article’s central point. No, Pelforth’s quality is of central importance here. Cecchini continues, and quite hilariously so, I might add:
“I’ve had friends drag me back bottles of it, with disbelief. Truly? With all the haut de gamme products one might purloin from Paree, you want this beer from the supermarket? This reaction is a mere shadow of what the French themselves exhibit when I regale them of my love for Pelforth Brune. Most of them smirk acidly, trying to parse whether I’m being facetious or not. Imagine some excitable French nerd sputtering on about his deep love for Miller High Life.”
As I said, it’s hilarious – simply laughable, in fact – to read Pelforth and Miller Lite in the same paragraph. Perhaps it’d be more accurate to compare Pelforth to Yuengling, a true medium-bodied working man’s beer. (Not surprisingly, Pelforth’s marketing tagline is “Donnez une Pelforth Brune aux hommes qui ontsoif” - which translates to “Give a Pelforth Brune to thirsty men.”)
Armed with this knowledge, I enjoyed Pelforth – both varieties, as well as plenty of Kronenbourg, to be sure – whenever possible during the remainder of the trip. While Pelforth is commonly available in French groceries and supermarkets, it’s still not as common in Parisian bistros and restaurants as Kronenbourg. So for now, I’ll rely on my memories of cold Pelforth in Paris, and hope for a return visit, sooner or later. As long as it doesn’t take another ten years.
* In addition to the blonde and brown, Pelforth’s official website also advertises an amber (ambrée) variety, which I didn’t see while in Paris.