By Tony Forder
“I love Paris in the springtime”…ok summer. Traffic’s terrible…what did you expect? It’s raining…who cares, it’s Paris. Plus we’re going to be inside most of the time…at the Mondial de la Biere festival…first time in Paris…on three floors of the Maison de la Mutualite, an historic building in the Latin quarter.
Originating in Montreal, this was the sixth edition of the Mondial’s European-based festival first launched in 2009 in Strasbourg, and moving three years later to Mulhouse, also in Alsace. After a hiatus last year, the Mondial teamed up with the food event presenter Omnivore whose parent company, GL Events, also partners with the Mondial in their Brazilian festival in Rio de Janeiro.
Omnivore is known for its food showcases around the world, and they infused a certain culinary class into the beer festival proceedings in Paris. Chef/DJ/Rockstar Florent Ladeyn of Bloempot restaurant was on site offering an avant garde menu at the building’s on-site restaurant (I had Berliner Weisse-infused cucumber gazpacho with egg, and veal and fish tartare), and a Beer Cantine on the fifth floor. The top floor was also home to education – the Master Classes, sponsored by Goose Island (AB InBev) as in Montreal last year, offered seminars and panel sessions. The latter made for some lively exchanges between AB InBev’s High End ambassador Brett Porter and maverick Swiss brewer Jerome Rebetez who repeatedly tried to ruffle the feathers of the good-natured but now corporate representative.
My duties at the fest consisted of acting as a fest guide to Master Class attendees and as alternate judge. I also connected the fest with former US brewer Michael Gilmore whom they hired as translator and panel moderator. Gilmore, who oversaw brewing at the Frog brewpub chain in Paris for many years, now runs a homebrew shop and school in Paris and is a malt supplier to local breweries.
I was called into action on the second day of judging when one of the judges called in sick. My fellow judges were Oliver Wesseloh, a German industry veteran who has worked in the States, and founded his own Kehrweider Keativbrauerei in Hamburg in 2012; and Catherine Dionne-Foster who founded La Korrigane brewery in Quebec City in 2010. We blind tasted 50 beers in five hours – many Wits and Blanches which devolved into shandies and severely sweet concoctions (why enter these into competition, we wondered). Things picked up in my second session with Belgian golden ales and Triples, some with a smattering of Brett. The final flight was a hodge podge of stouts and barrel-aged. We found out later in the day the single platinum medal went to Scotch ale by Scottish brewery Dark Isle – I guess they should know how to make a Scotch Ale! The judges must have been partial to Scotch ale as Founders, the sole US winner, garnered one of the 10 gold medals awarded for Dirty Bastard.
So, the beers? Let’s preface that craft beer is coming on strong in France (800 breweries) and is finally making its presence felt in Paris. The 100 breweries represented at the fest spanned a pretty good cross-section of European craft brewing and a smattering of outside including the US – Founders, Brooklyn, Stone (which last year opened a brewery in Berlin), Lagunitas (now owned 100% by Heineken) and of course Goose Island. While many breweries were represented by their distributors, some brewers made the trip including those from Dieu du Ciel! and Trou du Diable from Mondial’s home province of Quebec.
Some of my personal standouts included White Frontier, a collection of Swiss skiers/snowboarders who have turned their passion for extreme sports into brewing – winners of two gold medals for an IPA and for a Citra-hopped New England-style pale ale. Meteor from Alsace, France’s only remaining independent regional brewery also won two golds – for their Blanche and for a White IPA.
Ninkasi Brewing, not the Oregon one, this is near Lyons; Parisis, Parisienne and Le Frog representing their home city; Scottish brewers Tempest were on site – gold medal for Mexicake; Jameson’s offered some interesting whiskey and beer pairings including their Caskmates, whisky aged in barrels previously aging beer – at 1 Euro, the best deal on site; and Heineken stepped out of the box with a “wild lager” with detectable Brett.
Food stalls, handpicked by Omnivore, offered some tasty selections – lobster rolls and ceviche or veggie hotdogs from Vegan Abbatoir for example. Tasting was by cashless card and prices seemed reasonable – 1-2 Euros ($1.20-$2.40) for 100 ml (3.5 ounces), twice that for 7 ounces. There was also a 12 Euro entry fee which included a souvenir tasting glass. Salons also gave exhibitors the opportunity to speak about their products, with a longer period for fest sponsors.
The fest began slowly on Friday but built to a crescendo on Saturday. Despite some “anti-corporate” sentiment espoused by the small and relatively new Paris craft beer cognoscenti before the fest, the Paris beer community, showed up, geeks and all. Said festival manager Luc Dubanchet, “I would say the Mondial de la Bière Paris which reached for its first year 8,000 craft beer addicts has been a true success thanks to the great quality of the 100 brewers, 20 countries, who took part in it. The high quality of exchanges, the incredible atmosphere have been beyond our expectations and we are excited to work on the Mondial de la Bière Paris 2018.”
It seems the Mondial has found a home in Paris.