Pub/Bar of the Month October 2014: L'Académie de la Bière, Chartres, France
L'Académie de la Bière, Chartres, France
For all the new breweries that have opened there in recent years, France remains a frustrating country for beer lovers.
Unless you are in a major city, it is still hard to find a beer of interest, with the vast majority of bars and restaurants serving the same old diet of Kronenbourg, Stella, Leffe and Heineken, perhaps brightened a little with a dash of Affligem, Pelforth and Hoegaarden.
That is why it is so encouraging to discover a bar like the Académie de la Bière in Chartres.
This is not the only bar with this name. There are similar outlets in Paris and Strasbourg at least but, as far as I can tell, they are not related.
The Chartres pub is particularly noteworthy for its position – just a stone's throw from the city's magnificent cathedral, right in the heart of the tourist quarter. It also stands out for its individuality.
In contrast to the genteel bistro-type restaurants and crêperies that surround the old centre, this is a fundamentally down-to-earth boozer with a strong local following.
Bar with Attitude
Don't expect anything stereotypically French when you push open the door. This is a bar with attitude. Rock music bounces off the crooked eighteenth-century walls and heavy beams of the L-shaped single room (although the volume of the music is not so loud as to prevent conversation).
The tables and chairs are a bit knocked about, the floor is simply tiled and there's a pleasantly grungy feel to the place, but a splash of colour is added by the many brewery plaques and advertisements.
In one corner, an electronic dartboard adds to the entertainment options, while smokers are catered for on a large covered terrace at the rear.
The Académie de la Bière, as you will quickly gather, doesn't take itself too seriously – a full-size coffin (pictured below) laid out in the window is further evidence of that – except when it comes to the beer service. Eight or nine beers are available on draught, most of them packing quite a punch. They may include BrewDog Punk IPA, Kwak and Delirium Tremens.
Supporting the draught beers is a full menu of bottled beers – some 130 in total. This is divided by nation, beginning with a Belgian selection that includes the rare Westvleteren Abt and many of the classics.
Appropriately, there's also a fine choice of French beers, indicating that many of the country's bars really are missing a trick by not reflecting what is a growing beer culture.
I particularly enjoyed Corrézienne Rouge, a 6.8% darkish beer from the Limousin region.
Described as an American pale ale, it combined fragrant Chinook and Cascade hop notes with berry fruits and a rich malt foundation.
Prices are not low. Expect to hand over around €7 for a 330-ml bottle, but I know many drinkers who will happily pay that rather than shelling out only a little less for something ubiquitous and bland. You can even choose from a list of beer cocktails, if you like that sort of thing.
Don't anticipate much in the way of food although, sensibly, the bar does make some provision for lining the stomach in the form of olives, pickles and dried sausages.
Chartres is a lovely city well worth visiting for many reasons, from the cathedral's ancient stained-glass to the stunning (free) son-et-lumière performance taking place all across the historic centre after nightfall during summer.
The presence of a bar like this is the icing on the cake.
L'Académie de la Bière, 8 rue de Cheval Blanc, 28000 Chartres, France
Tel. +33 (0)2 37 36 90 07 (after 3pm)
Opening Hours: October–May 5pm–1am; 5pm–2am Friday and Saturday; closed Monday; June–September 5pm–1am; 5pm–2am Friday; 4pm–2am Saturday; 4pm–1am Sunday