I'm sure I'm not the only expat who has occasionally marveled at the aesthetic poverty of Paris beer culture. This is a country home to four hundred distinct varieties of cheese, and having an opinion on each is a matter of national pride. There are prizes given every year for the best tête de veau. Yet beer in France at large has somehow remained below the threshold of aesthetic attention for much of the populace, as evidenced by the vacuous brands on offer at most bars and supermarkets : Kronenberg, 1664, Amstel, Heineken, Pelforth, etc.
Whatever their respective merits may be over vile industrial American staples like Bud Light, these other beers remain, like Bud Light, substances that are consumed in lieu of aesthetic experience - they're basically water, only alcoholic and carbonated. At the other end of the spectrum of beers widely available in Paris, you have the sweetish one-note bruiser that is Leffe, which to my tastes shares DNA with those bottom-shelf "strong beers" marketed mainly to the homeless.* Parisians seem to like their bière either to dull the senses, or not be perceived at all.
Given the size of the craft beer market in numerous other major cities, Paris' stagnant beer scene has long presented an untapped opportunity. So I was overjoyed to learn that, with the soft opening last month of a majestic twenty-tap beer bar called La Fine Mousse in a quiet square off rue Oberkampf, some enterprising young Frenchmen have at last seized the moment.
Perhaps it took so long because the owners were concerned with getting everything right. La Fine Mousse is, by Parisian standards, a refreshingly ambitious place, from the custom cement bar to the strict regiment of gleaming new taps behind it. The interior is even powerfully air-conditioned, despite a mostly open wall facing the street outside.
|Brasserie Outland's I.P.A.|
La Fine Mousse is the project of Simon Thillou, proprietor of artisal beer shop La Cave à Bulles, and Cyril Lalloum, Romain Thieffry, Laurent Cicurel, three beer enthusiasts known for organising a series of beer tastings entitled "Soirées Maltées" on various boats in the Seine. My friend J2 had actually invited me to one of these events shortly before the opening of La Fine Mousse, but I'd declined, thinking that a few good beers were probably not worth schlepping out to stand on a boat with a bunch of beardy beer dudes.
The curse of every good beer bar is, of course, its customer profile, which is typically 90% male, of whom 50% possess recogniseable blowhard tendencies. (Self-gratification seems often to accompany the otherwise laudable chutzpah inherent in people who take an intellectual interest in subjects that are widely, if incorrectly, viewed as slightly plebeian.) But the crowd on the several occasions I've been to La Fine Mousse has been pleasantly mixed, and in what appears to be an odd concession to the chick market, the owners include on the drinks list a broad selection of non-alcoholic beverages.
Naturally my friends and I have on no occasion sampled any of these. The highlights of some recent trips to La Fine Mousse have instead been a balanced and lightly spiced local IPA from Brasserie Outland, in Bagnolet, and Spezial's impressively weird Rauchbier, or smoked lager, redolent of bacon, which we drank from bottle after my friend Kai Lorch of Demory Beer requested it. (At the time the bottle list had yet to be launched; the owners had just finished installing fridges, in which there will soon be stocked a very broad selection.)
The selection of beers is splendid overall, if just slightly too weighted towards high-octane Imperial and Belgian style ales for my tastes.
A few more beers in the 5% range would probably go a long way towards ensuring the clientele don't stumble into traffic, while also improving cash intake somewhat. (I can drink precisely one 10% beer before I begin to behave like the fellow from that Grizzly Man documentary, frolicking around, jumping in rivers, hugging dangerous animals.) A somewhat cursory selection of Compass Box blended scotch is also available.
I'm hesitant to judge service at a place that is still theoretically in its "soft opening" stage, but it bears mentioning that this is the one potential Achilles heel of the whole project, which otherwise (and, knowing Paris, nevertheless) looks set to be a smashing success. During each of my visits to the bar it was painfully clear that no one behind said bar had much service experience. At one point I was actually chastised for giving my order to the bartender in front of me while he assembled a charcuterie plate, as though the ability to multitask were not, you know, a fundamental service requirement like eyesight or speech.** Most orders were taken with a sort of distracted insouciance, and tap beers - not exactly rocket science to serve - often took eternities to arrive.
Happily for them, learning how to use the equipment is easier than to putting it all in place - meaning that by the time la rentrée rolls around, La Fine Mousse's staff should have had ample time to master beer service, and they'll still be the only game in town. The revolution begins then.
* It never ceases to amuse me that one such wallopingly alcoholic beer is named "Navigator." As in: that role for which one ought probably be disqualified, following consumption.
** This is the original sin of service, when one asks for something, and the staff member says he or she is busy and huffily suggests asking his or her coworker. "I'm busy too," one wants to shriek. "Patronising your understaffed establishment. You go ask your coworker."
La Fine Mousse
6, ave. Jean Aicard
Tel: 09 80 45 94 64
La Fine Mousse's good communicative blog
An early notice on the opening of La Fine Mousse @ MaltsetHoublons