Ménilmontant’s only brewpub offers the simple pleasure of artisanal beers and a large terrace
In normal times, the wide sidewalks along the tree-lined boulevard de Ménilmonant are a great place to get a drink on a terrace. Those looking for a beer have their choice of establishments between métro Père Lachaise and métro Ménilmontant. But only the Micro Brasserie Balthazar, at number 90, crafts its own beers. Balthazar is one of a handful of microbreweries in the 20th, and the arrondissement’s only brewpub, serving the beers it makes.
Founded some three years ago by Florian and three associates, the brewpub fills a former bazaar. The brewing equipment takes up the majority of the space, leaving room for only a few booths and tables inside. Most of the seating is outside, on the large terrace. “The beer is brewed on site. We don’t have a cellar, so everything is visible. The brew tank is there, and then the beer goes into the fermenters in the back. We serve the beers directly from the fermenters or from kegs, » Florian explains. His idea was to be in direct contact with people, to have their feedback and to exchange with them.
A former sound engineer, Florian developed a taste for beer while studying film in Brussels and became interested in brewing after a trip to Quebec City. “I already liked Belgian beers, which have body. Then I discovered IPAs, which are hyper aromatic. And then I discovered that there are so many possibilities: beers that are strong, light, acid, sweet, salty, smoked… the range of tastes is super wide not only as a beer drinker, but also as a craft brewer. So I thought I could have a lot of fun with it.”
Florian estimates they’ve developed 15 or 20 beer recipes. These include the highly-hopped Mémé Dans les Orties IPA, the Bonnet d’Âne sour featuring different fruits, and the Pain Perdu gose made with leftover baguettes. They also make fermented soft drinks, such as ginger beer or kombucha.
“We have eight beers on tap plus a kombucha. Five are beers of our own, and we supplement with guest beers. We try to offer a range of styles that are different enough to appeal to everyone: our basic blonde, the Ménilmuche (a nickname for Ménilmonant) pale ale; a white; one or two IPAs; and the rest are on a rotation,” Florian explains, adding that none of Balthazar’s beers are filtered.
“I love it when someone tells me they don’t like beer, and I let them taste beers until they find what they like,” Florian says, “People who say they don’t like beer often say so because they don’t like the beers they’ve tried. Sometimes people don’t like bitterness, and we have beers that are not bitter. Sours are often not very bitter, and the acidity is reminiscent of wine, like a sour white wine. Stouts appeal to people who like coffee, for example. Imperial stouts have a dessert side, like chocolate cake. There are so many different tastes!”
Assistant brewer Guillaume began working at Balthazar some seven months ago. “I’d been brewing in my apartment for two-three years. It was a passion. Then I met Florian through the Paris Beer Club association, and he was looking for an assistant, so I offered to join him. I was in IT and didn’t find much sense in what I was doing anymore,” Guillaume explains, adding that he’s pleased with his career change and hopes to one day open his own brewery.
They usually brew once or twice a week. But since bars closed due to Covid at the end of October, they brew once a month. These days, Balthazar is open for several hours in the afternoon to sell takeaway pints and growlers as well as slices of their homemade pizza. A few customers stop in to fill up their growlers to take home, but the ambiance is a far cry from normal times, when groups of friends crowd around tables to share a meat and cheese board. “It’s a pity because we have top beers on the menu at the moment. We’ve reached the peak of our recipes,” Guillaume says.
“Our customers are generally from the neighborhood or from the east of Paris. We have regulars, and from time to time tourists who drift over from Père Lachaise,” says Florian, a Paris native who currently lives in Pantin, which he calls “the other 20th”. “I’m more into the east of Paris, the animated, lively neighborhoods,” he says.
The brewery is named after the 12L Champagne bottle, and its donkey head logo was inspired by the film “Au Hasard Balthazar”, which features a donkey. The bar’s decor also follows a quirky logic. Old, cult or kitsch films are projected on one wall. And many other walls are covered in pages of old comic books. “Some people are mad because I cut up so many comics. They think that I massacred them. On the contrary, I feel like I’m paying homage by making them visible,” Florian says, adding that the same idea is behind the films and the comics: to create links and start conversations.
“I worked in film. It’s experimental, abstract and hard to share. A brewpub is simpler, you come with your friends and you come to drink a beer and that’s it,” Florian says.