When we think of France, one common image that comes to mind is of fine wine, fine cheese and great bread. Of course there’s lots of other things, but these three will keep most of us happy for many a sunny evening at a sidewalk café. Strange that if we drive a few miles across the border to Belgium, our choice naturally shifts to choosing from different beers.

We know that 2,500 years ago the Greeks were trading amphorae full of wine around the Mediterranean. Also wine was the drink of choice of the Romans. Outer Gaul was considered rather barbaric by the well brought up Romans (prior to the demise of the republic and the start of the decline, of course) populated as it was by lots of hairy Celts and such. Beer was much more suitable for rip-roaring evenings of tale telling around the fires by larger than life characters, typified by the French cartoon character Asterix.

A recent dig at Roquepertuse has come up with evidence of brewing from the carbonized remains of malted Barley (1).  The brewers were brewing in 5oo B.C. at this house. Roquepertuse is slap bang in the middle of France and was a Celtic religious center where there are statues of seated warriors looking rather relaxed and Buddha-like. Perhaps they had been depicted enjoying the brew.

The Romans destroyed the place in 124 B.C. I guess the beer drinkers moved north rather than drink the Italian wines. The great French vineyards would not be planted then, of course. But it wouldn’t be long before the locals were on a diet of wheat, wine and dormice while their friends who had moved north were still on barley, beef and beer. Personally, I have to confess to being a cross-eater and consuming all of the above but the dormice.

  1. L. Bouby, P. Boisinnot & P. Marinval, Hum. Ecol., 39, 351, (2011)

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