Kronenbourg 1664: The wine drinkers' beer
The French don't seem to get beer. On a recent trip to Paris, I ate at a restaurant that supposedly had 600,000 bottles of wine in the cellar. That fact became even more striking because almost every cafe, brasserie, and even Jean Pierre on the corner usually offered me the same three beers -- one of which was always Kronenbourg 1664. One explanation for the lack of variety would be that they have produced the single best beer on the planet, and there is just no need for any others.
Well, that's not it.
The French just don't appreciate beer the way much of the world does. My world, anyway. Wine and coffee are their drinks of choice; beer is just for those pathetic souls who are allergic to grapes. I think the only reason they even have the Kronenbourg is because the Germans left it for them when they gave back Alsace-Lorraine. That's too bad, because, while not great, Kronenbourg 1664 deserves a bit more than abject indifference.
I remember having had it several times back in the day. For some reason, it was much more available in the States 10 or 15 years ago, but it has been making a small comeback lately. I never thought much about it back then. It didn't make a great impact, and I didn't really miss it when it became scarce.
My first reintroduction was on the flight over. It was the only choice of beer from the beverage cart. I didn't know it then, but that was quickly going to become a theme. I wasn't in a discerning mood anyway. I'd have settled for any beer at that moment. The can of 1664 was better than I expected, though. It looked very ordinary pouring into the plastic cup. A familiar, golden-yellow beer with a muted aroma. The carbonation made it more lively and produced a decent head, but it could have been any of the usual WaterBeerLites. All I cared was that it was crisp and dry, and did the job. The 5.9% alcohol soothed the mood enough to make the uncomfortable flight, complete with a tag-team of tiny babies that screamed in succession for 8 1/2 hours, just about tolerable.
My second taste came after deciding to shake off a bit of jet-lag in a cafe. I was a bit irked upon learning that 1664 was, again, the only real beer option. But, after a few more sips, something strange happened. I started enjoying it. Turns out, the beer was more than serviceable. 1664 is a crisp, pale lager, similar to many Euro-styled versions, but a notch above the crowd. The hops give it a grassy twang which is just barely balanced with a dollop of syrupy sweetness. Being French, there's a doughy graininess throughout, like having a mouthful of baguette with the beer. It finishes with a clean and bitter aftertaste. These are very easy to drink, and won't get in the way of any cheap meal, even if they don't pair spectacularly with anything. With a light lunch in a cafe, they're more than fine.
Surprisingly, the flavor of the domestic version sold in France is exactly the same as the imported version sold in the States. Unlike some other beers that are just completely different here, such as Heineken, or ones that don't seem to travel well, like Pilsner Urquel, Kronenbourg remains consistent. Nothing hugely complex you'll want to dissect, it's just a working class beer that gets the job done. It's one of the bigger, massed-produced beers of Europe, so if you find it, it's usually a couple nickels cheaper than similar European lagers. 1664 is better than most of the domestics, though, and should comfortably fit the palates of many American beer drinkers. Not terribly interesting, and just fine served ice cold. If the French don't want it, it has a home over here.