What to Drink in France (or at least, in Poitiers)

One of the things that took me a good while when coming to France was figuring out what to drink at friends’ houses and what to order in a bar.

Certain things I picked up on pretty quick:

  • un demi: a half-pint of whatever low-grade beer the bar has
  • un chocolat: contrary to all of my French classes I have never heard anyone say chocolat chaud for a hot chocolate. In fact, here at least, chocolat chaud typically refers to hot fudge for an ice cream sundae.
  • un verre de rouge/de blanc: an inexpensive glass of whatever house wine the bar has.

Honestly it was a little frustrating to arrive at a friend’s house, have them ask, “What would you like to drink?” and have no idea what the options really were, outside beer or wine. The drinks I liked in the States were typically gin-based, though I’d gotten into Vodka Sours or Tom Collinses just before graduating. Unfortunately, the French seem mostly into rum. True aficionados will get theirs imported from the French Antilles. My student-aged friends would bring a few cheaper bottles back from Spain after vacations there.

Cocktail bars typically have some type of punch, whose alcoholic ingredient will be rum. A mojito is also a safe bet. I would have logically thought that all this rum-love meant that rum & cokes were regularly imbibed, but no—J swears that I’ve made this drink up and that it doesn’t really exist, contrary to the whiskey-coca that he frequently drinks.

Unfortunately for me, I’m really not a fan of rum or of many of the drinks in French bars. A few things I don’t care for are:

  • un monaco: a beer with a splash of grenadine in it. For someone who can’t stand fruit-flavored beers, this one was a lost cause.
  • picon bière: Picon is a special type of orangey liqueur that is made to go in beer to mix things up.
  • Kro/Carlsberg/any other bland blond beer: Don’t get me wrong, bland beer has its place. After a hot day in the sun, I’ve been known to enjoy a Lonestar or two. But I miss going out to bars and being able to reliably order better beer than this. Consequently, I’ve even gotten a little sick of Grimbergen and Leffe, because they’re the default not-terrible beers in the bars here. But beer in France is fodder for a whole other article.

Here are a few things I’ve found I can reliably order in a bar and enjoy, though at friends’ houses these drinks are harder to come by.

  • un gin-tonic: The French remove the “and” from all of these drinks.
  • un Bailey: Don’t bother to pronounce the -s…they might not understand it.
  • un martini: NOT a martini, but either a red or a white version of a sweet vermouth.
  • un russe blanc (a White Russian)
  • un vodka orange: a screwdriver with a simpler name
  • un diabolo: When I want to stay away from alcohol, this is the cheapest and simplest of all French drinks, the equivalent of an American Italian soda. You can choose your syrup flavor, but a lot of people like mint, grenadine (my go-to), lemon, or strawberry.

Any other suggestions for mixed drinks or other in French bars?

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6 thoughts on “What to Drink in France (or at least, in Poitiers)

  1. Hey, I loved this. So useful for someone new to France. I’d add a “panaché” (beer mixed with lemonade), not uncommon in Paris in the summer months, though not as popular as a Monaco, I think. As for the martini: right on! It’s usually Martini & Rossi brand sweet vermouth (either red or white), hence the name, but there are other brands, too. Martini blanc is definitely one of my favorite apéritifs in France. (Not to plug my own blog here, but I even write an article on that one: http://jeparleamericain.com/2012/02/05/ill-have-a-martini-sil-vous-plait/. You might chuckle from the anecdote at the beginning. True story.) Cheers!

    • I remember that post! I had forgotten it was a sweet vermouth. I’ve never actually tried panaché though I was looking at it on a menu just yesterday afternoon. Glad you liked the post!

  2. L says:

    My husband’s a big fan of “demi pêche” which is beer with some peach syrup. It’s kind of like a monaco. I would say a diablo with grenadine is the equivalent of a Shirley Temple. You can also almost always get cidre at a bar (though probably not at a friend’s house). In the south a lot of people serve pastis (anise flavored alcohol you dilute in water and optionally with syrup) and muscat as an apéro. These two options are the big ones with my in-laws. In the Toulouse area people might have Floc as well. Sometimes when I feel thirsty but don’t want alcohol at a bar I get a Perrier-menthe which is refreshing.

    • Oh yeah, demi-peche, I thought there was another one! Pastis is freely available here too, unfortunately I don’t like anise. I do enjoy Muscat though I’ve never had it in a bar. And I’ve never heard of Floc!

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