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Lyon’s blossoming relationship with beer

Published on 11/06/2024

With 280 breweries and microbreweries, including 160 craft Breweries, Auvergne Rhône-Alpes is France’s biggest beer-producing region. In Lyon, the love story started (or was revived) in the late 1990s when Ninkasi arrived on the scene. And we’re still head-over-heels with local brews!

by Véronique Lopès.

In late April 2024, more than 8000 people attended the Lyon Bière Festival, France’s largest gathering of beer lovers and professionals, to find out about the latest
trends, industry newcomers and new brews. Its organiser, Nicolas Dumortier, co-founder of Bieronomy, is still pleasantly surprised about its success: “We began with 30 breweries in 2016. Today, we’ve reached 103 breweries and in a 4000-sq. m space,” he told us, adding that he’s unearthing new gems all the time.
At the origins of this event lies the city’s most famous brewery – Ninkasi. Currently formed of more than twenty restaurants (mainly in the Lyon urban area, including the latest additions in Oullins and Cordeliers) and one brewery, in Tarare, the company’s aim was to unite industry stakeholders by creating an annual gathering in Lyon. After getting off to a gradual start, it has inspired vocations and transformed Lyon’s brewing landscape, which is now vibrant. 
La Canute Lyonnaise, for instance, will soon be celebrating its tenth anniversary. Its singular path, its growing popularity in Lyon’s bars and restaurants, and the 
stories told by each of its beers make it an essential brewery. “We put Lyon in a bottle. Each beer is named after a neighbourhood, a street, or a figure that reflects its story,” told us Anne-Pauline Fernier, co-founder of La Canute Lyonnaise. The dark beer of Vieux-Lyon, for example, echoes the old ‘noire de Lyon’ (literally ‘Lyon black’), once served in the taverns of Saint-Paul; the wheat beer of Grange-Blanche, on the other hand, references the district’s past as a wheat store... “They are tips of the hat, sometimes serious; othertimes humorous, to make people smile”, she explained to us. 

Eat in or take away?

Founded in 2016, Nomade Brewery shares the same love for hops, but distributes its beers through different channels. As PhD students in chemistry, Lauriane Buisson and Sam Aspin started small by opening a bar on Rue Paul-Bert (in Lyon’s 3rd district) to sell their produce directly. “In the United States and South America, all breweries have a taproom for direct sales. That’s why we moved to Genas in 2019, to premises big enough to welcome all our customers every 
day,” explained Lauriane, who’s delighted with the success of their bar, despite its location in a business district on the outskirts of Lyon. In a similar vein, there 
is the beer garden run by Christian, funder of Microbrasserie de Montchat, who welcomes his customers on Thursday and Friday evenings; as well as the brewery 
Caribrew, in Soucieu-en-Jarrest, and the recently opened brewery Amalthée, in Lamure-sur-Azergues, which has an association bar, L’Engrenage, and a large terrace with a view of the garden and vats. Lyon’s largest brewpub – a concept imported from North America, combining a micro-brewery, bar and restaurant in a single location – is the Malting-Pot. Since it opened in 2016, Andéol Aysac has already brewed 70 different beers, which customers can enjoy in the large garden behind the bar. We should also mention the breweries Platypus, in Perrache, Brasserie de l’Amour, in Villeurbanne, and Drôle d’Oiseau, the latest addition, located in Garibaldi. Home is where the beer is... Beer, including craft beer, is increasingly consumed at home. “80% of beer is purchased at medium and large-sized retailers,” 
observed Christophe Fargier, founder of Ninkasi, who has been working hard over the past five years to get his products on French supermarket shelves. Even the 
smallest breweries are following this path. The brand Bières Georges is no exception. With its brewery Fabrique du Faubourg in Vénissieux, it has dedicated ranges 
for bars and supermarkets. The organic beers brewed by Nomade Brewery are available at Biocoop, while those produced by Brasserie Dulion and Bières bio 
Mont-d’Or can be found in organic food shops throughout the region. 

Find your perfect partner

The industry is showing imagination on more than just the distribution side. To attract new customers and earn their loyalty, breweries are diversifying. Ninkasi, 
once again, led the way in 2018 with its first whisky, followed by gin, vodka and cider. La Canute also has a very exclusive whisky, available only at the brewery. The 
latest trend to grip breweries, however, is “Nolo”, for “no-alcohol” and “low alcohol”. Bières bio Mont-d’Or has launched a range of three soft drinks named ‘Green 
bulles bio’. Microbrasserie de Montchat is currently preparing its own range of soft drinks, as is Dwyn (an acronym of ‘Drink what you need’): “Lemonade and kombucha make good additions to the range, as demand for drinks with less alcohol is high”, noted Maximilien, co-founder of the brewery in Brignais, which opened just under a year ago. Whatever your type is, there are now plenty of options on offer to enjoy a refreshing drink, with sunny days and long evenings just around the corner.

Capital of gastronomy and beer

Beer has flowed in Lyon since the Middle Ages, but the city’s romance with the ambrosial drink really began to flourish around 1750 when Christophe Bechtel, of Bavarian origin, decided to open his brewery on the banks of the Rhône to draw its pure water. He brewed a dark beer known as ‘la noire de Lyon’. It was an instant 
hit. He opened a tavern and rapidly brought in brewers from Bavaria to help him expand his business. 
In the nineteenth century, Lyon welcomed an influx of migrants from Alsace who opened breweries all over the city. They included Georges Hoffherr, who settled in Perrache. He opened Brasserie Georges in 1836, serving a traditional Alsatian dish: sauerkraut. Lyon became France’s capital of beer, ahead of Strasbourg even! 
The Second World War brought this golden period to an abrupt end. Businesses closed in quick succession until there were no breweries left in the city proper. 
It was not until the late 1990s that the beer industry made a tentative comeback, with a handful of craft breweries opening, such as Chantecler (which became Chanteclair) in the Croix-Rousse district. These were followed by Ninkasi’s arrival, which really put Lyon back on the path to today’s booming beer business.

Three questions for Thibault Schuermans 

Thibault Schuermans has a passion for beer and has made it his career. A graduate of Institut Lyfe, this man from Lyon became a beerologist in 2016. He then made it his mission to help restaurant owners find perfect food and beer pairings.

What were the factors that spurred the growth of craft breweries?

Beer is all about togetherness and fun. It has attracted lots of people looking for a career change. Brewers have become more professional, brewing all types of beers. France is lucky in that it doesn’t have a burdensome tradition in this area, so it has a very lively, creative scene. It keeps on pushing back the boundaries. On the consumer side, there is high demand for novelty, and people are keen to keep on tasting and better understanding beer

Why has beer been such a success story in Lyon, more so than elsewhere?

Lyon got off to a slow start compared with other regions, probably because of our attachment to wine, but many breweries are now firmly established and working very well. I think it’s partly down to the efforts of bars such as Les Berthom and Boston Tavern, which have put Lyonnais beers on tap. Just a few years ago, everyone was favouring French beers, but people are now adopting an ultra-local approach, which is a very positive thing. Bars are looking to source quality beers from round the corner. This also shows that the professionalism of small-scale brewers is paying off.

What makes Lyon’s brewers stand out? 

All of France’s regions have a long history with wine and brewers have had to find their niche. I think it encourages them to be more inventive with their beers. Often, in addition to their “classic” ranges, they come up with more highend, gourmet beers. This is the case with Nomade brewery, Les Danaïdes, Mappiness and La Canute, for example.

A few years ago, IPAs were in vogue; what are the latest trends today? 

IPAs have lost none of their appeal and continue to grow in popularity. What we are seeing now is many breweries moving into sours, with tart fruity flavours.

What are your most recent favourites from Lyon’s brewers? 

La Gonerie de Mappiness, a bitter and very thirst-quenching lager. Then there is the whole range ‘Les Saisons des Danaïdes’, featuring dry, peppery beers with lemony notes. In terms of food and beer pairings, they are a good counterbalance to dishes that are a bit too rich or sweet. I have a weakness for their Saison de Bourgogne, a fairly dry and spicy beer, aged in a Burgundy barrel. Finally, there are the beers from La Brasserie de l’Amour, particularly their Rouge des Flandres.

Where to go for a good beer in Lyon?

Slice – Pizza shop & craft beer
With six beer taps emerging from a giant slice of pizza, disco balls on the ceiling and neon lights, Slice is a new address where you can enjoy a beer and some great New York-style pizza. The sophisticated selection of craft beers is made by 
Johann, founder of the cellar 20 000 lieues sous la bière, the bar-restaurant Barcandier and the beer festival Bibine (to be held in the autumn).
21 grande rue de la Guillotière, Lyon 7ème
La Kave Maltée
A fantastic remedy for tedium, this bar always has ten craft beers to choose from on tap, and fifty or so bottled and canned beers, as well as a delicious selection of nibbles. 
81 rue Louis-Blanc, Lyon 6ème 
More than a beer bar, Orgao is a place to taste and make new discoveries. Behind the bar’s dozen taps, Sam talks about each beer on offer with passion. 
And, for customers who want take their favourite beers home with them, Orgao has one-litre vacuum growlers (made of recycled plastic) that will keep your chosen beers fresh for three weeks.
145 rue Sébastien-Gryphe, Lyon 7ème
It’s always a surprise to find out which beers will be on offer at this little alternative bar in Lyon’s Presqu’île district. Dorian sources beer barrels from all over France, and sometimes even beyond, including the United States. A great place for those who like to try new beers.
26 rue Neuve, Lyon 2ème
The Holy Hop 
This place is so new that we haven’t had a chance to try it yet. We couldn’t not tell you about the opening of Lyon’s first beer-spa though. Over the course of a private session, guests soak in a tub of water with hops, brewer’s yeast and malt, while sipping beer from the draught beer dispenser placed within reach (1 litre per person per session). A straw bed for a rest and a sauna are also provided. You can also order an aperitif platter.
€69 per hour for one person; €109 for two.
6 rue Ferrachat, Lyon 5ème
Dr Yeast
On top of the hill of Croix-Rousse, this has been a magnet for beerophiles since 2019. With 30 draught beers, there are options for neophytes and aficionados alike. What’s more, it’s worth coming for the tasty snacks alone, as well as the interior with its wide columns and high Canut-style ceiling.
6 rue de Cuire, Lyon 4ème