While you may think of France as a place for only wine lovers, beer drinkers can be seen sipping away on just about any terrasse you come across in Paris. Available pretty much everywhere, beer is just as popular to drink as wine at a cafe or bar.
But the typical beer experience in France is a bit different from the one in North America or the UK, ranging from how pints are typically ordered and served to the types of popular beers on tap. Read on for the basics on what to expect when ordering a round in the City of Light
1. Small or large?
In France, you don’t just get to choose the type of beer you want, but also the size of the glass. Your bartender will ask you if you want “un demi” (a half-pint that costs about €3 to 4), or “une pinte” (a pint that costs €6-8). The demi almost always costs half what the pint costs. If you’re not a big drinker, or simply want to pace yourself, the demi can make a good option, but the pint might save you a bit if you plan on drinking more than one demi.
2. Beer always comes with a glass
If you order a bottled beer, the bartender or server will always give you a glass to pour your drink into, whether you asked for one or not. This small cultural difference between France and the United States shocked an older French acquaintance of mine on a trip to Louisiana when, after ordering a bottled beer in New Orleans, the bartender just plonked down the bottle and left. “You always serve it with a glass,” he said to me, sighing, “because, it’s just, that’s just what you do.”
3. Cost depends on your seat
While the cost of beer in anglophone countries only depends on the beer type you’ve ordered, in France, the cost can also depend on where you decide to sit. If you choose a seat at the bar, your drink will cost about €1 cheaper than if you decide to sit at a table. And in some establishments, such as posh restaurants on the Champs-Elysées, your drinks will cost a few euros more if you sit outside. So when going for a drink, just keep in mind that if you find a great seat, you might be paying a bit extra for the privilege of being there.
Related: What you can expect to pay in Paris — and how to pay less!
4. Keep an eye out for happy hours
A welcome relief in one of the most expensive cities in the world, happy hours offer discounts on drinks in many bars and pubs around town. Establishments offering a happy hour usually advertise that fact on a chalkboard or easel just next to their entrances, making them easy to spot.
Related: 10 tips for saving on dining in Paris
5. Would you like syrup with that?
In France, sugary fruit syrups are not just for lattés. The French are known for mixing a variety of syrups with their beer. Popular offerings include peach, strawberry, lemon, ginger, black currant and mint. You can also order a beer with a shot of grenadine — just ask for “un tango“. It costs about €.20 to .50 extra to get a shot of syrup.
6. “Picon” mixes in citrus
Typical of the Paris region and in much of northern France, “picon” is an aperitif made from fresh oranges and distilled alcohol. It is also commonly mixed with beer. Ask for “une picon biére” at a bar and you’ll get a sweet drink with a hint of citrus. It will only cost you about €.50 to €1.50 extra.
7. “Panaché” mixes in lemonade
Called the “panaché“, this drink is half beer, half carbonated lemonade. A variation, called the “Biére Monaco“, is the same thing but with a shot of grenadine included. If you find yourself sitting on a terrace on a hot summer day, this mixture can be a really refreshing relief from the heat.
8. So, what’s on tap?
If you check the tap at just about any bar, café, bistro or restaurant in Paris, you’ll almost always find the following:
Kronenbourg 1664: A light, crisp lager produced in Alsace.
Grimbergen: From the Flanders region of Belgium, this brand makes a wide variety of popular ales and wheat beers.
Pelforth: A brewery which makes a famously light pale ale of the same name, produced in the northern French region of Nord de Pas Calais.
Other beers that make frequent appearances include the Belgian wheat beer brand Leffe, the Belgian pilsner Stella Artois, and Dutch lagers Heineken and Grolsch.
Related: Tasting the unique beer culture of Lille for less
9. Christmas beers
Some breweries whip up a batch of warming, hoppy specialty beers for Christmas, known as “les bieres de noel”. Brasserie Schutzenberger and Meteor, two brewers from Alsace, produce popular bieres de noel that can be found in bars and in supermarkets come December.
10. Traditional French beer from the Calais region
Known as “biere de garde“, these amber or gold-colored brews generally have a malty taste and have high alcohol content. Some well-known biere de garde brewers in France include Trois Monts, Jenlain and Brasserie Castelain. While not found quite as often on tap in Paris, they can be picked up at most supermarkets or in specialty beer or wine stores.
Bonus Cheapo Tip: If you want to do a beer tasting in your hotel room, however, this would be the cheapest way, with a 75 cl bottle of most domestic beers costing less than €3 at the supermarket.
Related: A guide to Paris supermarkets