I went to France last month. Our good friends were getting married (she’s French), so we braved the tourist crowds that come with “peak season” in Europe and made a trip of it. I did my best to document any instances of cider I came across along the way. Here are some highlights and observations.
I managed to start the trip off with a can of Magners Irish Cider on the plane ride over because we flew Aer Lingus, an Irish airline. Magners is not my favorite cider, but I had to take it as it came.
While in Paris, I saw quite a lot of ads for Loïc Raison cidre:
I’ve already written about my ambivalence towards raspberry cider (even though I love raspberries), so I wasn’t too keen to give it a go. I never did end up trying it but I don’t feel like I lost out on anything.
Apparently, Loïc Raison is one of France’s best-selling brands. However, according to this Beerpulse.com article, cider drinking is down in France:
In France, the category’s performance is related to the disappearance of a generation used to drinking cider daily and an insufficient number of new consumers to compensate for them.
The French are famously a country of wine drinkers, so it was interesting to survey the non-wine beverage industry. I saw a few metro ads for pre-mixed cocktails/alcopop-type drinks. And here’s an ad for Havana Club rum, which, being Cuban, is still illegal in the US.
I should note that we did get good American-style cocktails at the Experimental Cocktail Club, which takes its cues from New York’s drinking culture. Here’s an excerpt from a NY Times article about the bar:
“We saw so much diversity in drinking in New York, it was fascinating,” [Experimental Cocktail Club owner Romée de Goriainoff] said. “There was no cocktail culture in France, and what people were drinking was bad quality. None of us had real professional experience before we started the E.C.C. We did our first professional experience by creating our own jobs, and in that respect we are very American-spirited.”
The Parisian original, furnished with vintage odds and ends, has no more than 25 seats, and bartenders who would look at home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with their caps and suspenders. They mix drinks like the Memphis sour, made with Rittenhouse rye, red wine, lemon, bitters and paprika.
I noticed a lot of ads for an Asterix theme park (Parc Asterix):
If you don’t know Asterix, it’s a hugely popular comic from France. It’s a great series, worth checking out. TinTin is another beloved French comics character that American audiences might be more familiar with after the 2011 Spielberg film (underrated movie, in my opinion). There’s a great appreciation for comics literature in France. The Montparnasse metro station in Paris just installed an enormous Joe Sacco mural that we saw while switching trains.
(Photo credit: Francois Mori / Associated Press)
I also came across a book by French illustrator Thierry Dubois, who does some really nice auto-themed pieces. I’d never heard of him before. His drawings kind of remind me of the old CARtoons magazine mixed with a little “Where’s Waldo” bird’s eye view busyness. (By the way, did you know Waldo is called “Charlie” in France? Also, McDonald’s are green instead of red in Europe!)
If we’re talking cocktails, illustration and France, then it’s worthwhile to mention that the great French poster artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was, according to Wikipedia:
…one of the notable Parisians who enjoyed American-style cocktails, France being a nation of wine purists. He had parties at his house on Friday nights and forced his guests to try them.
I don’t know if Lautrec liked cider or not. Let’s just pretend he at least tried it once.
After Paris, my next cider encounter was in Amboise, in the Centre Region of France. I had some crepes and cider at Creperie Anne de Bretagne. The cider was served in the traditional teacup. This was before a day spent biking, so I had to go easy on the stuff.
We toured Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley.
I could have sworn the audio tour said this was a “cider press” (next to the chair) in the kitchen:
I couldn’t tell for sure because the guy who did the voiceover for the audio guide had a heavy French accent. I played that snippet of audio a few times, but couldn’t confirm. I’m just going to go ahead say yes, it is a cider press.
While in Bordeaux (where the wedding was held), I passed Creperie Bretonne. It was closed, but I snapped a picture of their cider selection:
Also in Bordeaux (in Saint Emilion), my friend stopped in a wine shop called Le Comptoir des Producteur. They were doing tastings of flavored cognac; chocolate-flavored and watermelon-flavored (no thanks).
My friend, who’s a fellow cider fan, was chatting with the proprietors. They spoke decent English, we spoke no French – a recurring theme on this trip. My friend asked if they had any cider. The response from the guy behind the counter was a classic: “Cider is for wusses.” We all shared a big laugh. “I used to drink that when I was 12!” (although I could’ve questioned how badass watermelon cognac is).
The rest of France was cider-free, but we had one more stop before we got back to America. We had an 18-hour layover in Dublin and I think we made the most of it. It was just enough time for a night on the town and some sleep in a real bed and a shower before the 7-hour flight home. We spotted this billboard as we made our way to Millennium Bridge.
Our first stop was The Porterhouse Brewing Company, a highly recommended pub with an enormous craft beer selection. I was there for some cider, though. I got some fish and chips we ordered some other pub food. Whenever you go to a pub in Dublin, you invariably end up talking to your neighbor and that’s what happened here. A fellow from Toronto (who’d been in Ireland long enough to have an accent, pictured below) told us this was a good pub to stop in if you only had one day in Dublin. I told him I liked cider and he mentioned snakebites. More on that to come…
Porterhouse Brewing Co. had Stonewell Cider on their menu, which I was eager to try it but they had unfortunately sold out of it so I never got the chance. I ended up ordering Aspall Cyder instead. Aspall is one of my favorites, I can’t believe I’ve never written about it before. I used to get it all the time at the bodega I first got cider from (Royal Supermarket), but hadn’t had it in a long time. It’s quality stuff, and they gave us really large gasses of it.
I also ended up ordering a Bulmers, since it’s the local cider. I didn’t realize that Bulmers is the same thing as Magners, just with a different name. Did you know Magners and Bulmers is the same thing!? I had no clue. From the Magners website:
Magners is identical to Bulmers in terms of product taste and characteristics and its branding, packaging and promotional strategy is based on the marketing approach, which has been so successful for the Bulmers brand in Ireland
Bulmers Ltd. manufacturers of both Bulmers and Magners, do not own the trade mark for Bulmers outside of the Republic of Ireland.
The Magners brand name was developed by Bulmers Ltd. in 1999 when the company decided to apply its outstandingly successful home market development strategy to a number of export markets. The Magners brand, which intentionally mirrors all the product and design characteristics of the Bulmers brand, was successfully test marketed in Spain, Germany and Northern Ireland and is now exported to 17 countries worldwide
Go figure. The bar had a bunch of beer bottles in a display case near us and looky here, Asterix on a beer bottle:
It told you he was popular in Europe. Seriously, get one of the books – the crazy English translations are half the fun!
I need to lie down now.