Wondering what the typical French drinks are? We are here to help!
France is the ultimate destination for foodies. If you love delicious food and drinks, you will be in for a treat! When it comes to French drinks, wine and champagne come to mind first. While this is an excellent point, there is so much more to discover.
France is a country of authenticity and traditions. Each region has its own dishes and specialities. Producing wine, liquors and even soft drinks is an art that the French have been mastering for hundreds of years.
In this article, you will discover the most popular drinks in France, how they are made, where they come from, how to drink them and where to buy them!
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Types of French Drinks
France is known in the entire world for its exceptional food but when it comes to drink, it also sets the bar very high!
Of course, France is famous for its wines and champagnes. These need no introduction but they are not the only French drinks out there!
You will find a plethora of local drinks, anywhere you go! Each french drink fits into a specific category. The French often refer to the category more than to the drinks themselves so it’s important that you understand what they are. This will come in handy in restaurants and bars!
- Soft drinks and French sodas
- Hot drinks
The best French Apéritifs
An apéritif is a beverage you drink before a meal. It is pretty customary in France to get one which is why the waiter at the restaurant will always ask you if you want one before taking your food order.
Instead of giving you options, he will usually tell you “Souhaitez-vous un apéritif?”. In this case, he is referring to the category of drinks and the fact that it will be brought before the food.
At this point, if you wish a drink you will need to give the exact name.
The Pastis is one of the most popular drinks in the South of France. It’s an anise-flavoured spirit from Marseille. It’s usually consumed as an apéritif with an ice cube and a bit of cold water.
It is a very refreshing french beverage, hence its popularity in the South. Men tend to appreciate it more than women as it’s not sweet and it has a strong taste.
Although “Pastis” is the official name for this drink, most French people refer to it as “Ricard” or “Pernot”. These are actually two famous brands of Pastis. They are known to be the best and you will find them in every French bar and supermarket.
If you are visiting France soon and do as the locals do, order at the bar “Un petit Ricard s’il vous plait.”
The best time of the day to drink is before a meal (lunch or dinner) but a lot of people in the south drink it after work too.
Ratafia is a popular drink in Mediterranean countries such as Spain and France. Although there are some differences between the two countries, they are extremely similar so if you liked the Spanish ratafia, you will like the french one as well.
A lot of people calls it a liquor but this is not quite true. The Ratafia is a fortified wine made of marc and unfermented grape juice. It is quite sweet and is particularly liked by women.
It’s a traditional summer apéritif drink. You usually drink it before lunch while chatting away with friends.
As it’s made with grapes, you will find it in all wine regions in France however, it is thought to be from Champagne. Winemakers used to make it with leftovers and drink it as a treat!
This is one of the most underrated french drinks! Most people (including the French themselves) have never heard of it! That said, when it comes to authenticity, the Gentiane d’Auvergne sets the standard!
L’Auvergne is a rural region located in Central France. It’s home to several chains of volcanoes including the Chaine des Puys and Monts du Cantal.
Due to the previous volcanic activity, the lands in Auvergne are particularly fertile. Some of the species of plants and mushrooms in Auvergne are unique and can’t be found anywhere else in France. The best example of that is the gentiane.
It’s a tall mountain plant with yellow flowers. It’s mainly known for its roots. They are huge and very strong which is why it requires people with a lot of strength to harvest them. Once harvested, the roots are used to make a liquor. The best one comes from the department of Cantal and is called Salers.
It has quite a strong and bitter taste which is why it’s often preferred by men. In all honesty, the Gentiane is a hit or miss. You will either love it or hate but one thing is sure, it won’t leave you without an opinion.
Pineau des Charentes
The Pineau des Charentes is the most famous fortified-wine in France. It comes from the department of Charentes in the South West. It is a sweet apéritif that has found its place in every french house.
It’s a mixture between grapes must and cognac. The balance between the sweetness of the grapes and the kick of the Cognac is perfect. The Pineau is an all-time favourite and is loved by everyone!
It’s also one of the oldest and most traditional drinks in France. According to the legend, it was first made during the 16th century when a winemaker in Charentes accidentally added grapes to a barrel of Cognac.
To appreciate it best, you need to drink it cold. It’s an excellent drink in summer, before a barbecue.
Vin de Noix
Literally translated as “Walnut wine”, this is one of the most authentic French drinks you will ever find! It is usually homemade in farms. That’s the kind of drinks your grandma would make!
Unlike what you want think, it’s not actually made with the nuts themselves but with the un-ripe shell. Before being ripe, walnuts are nestled in a green shell. This is what is being used to make the wine.
These nuts (still in their shells) are put together with alcohol, left to macerate for a while and eventually create a delicious sweet wine.
The Vin de Noix is not a strong alcohol. It’s very sweet and people usually drink it as an apéritif before lunch or dinner. Although it doesn’t feel too strong, it’s still something you should be careful with as you may be tempted to drink more than you should.
You can find it on local markets or in the “terroir” section of a supermarket.
The cartagène is another example of fortified wine in France. It comes from the region of Languedoc (in the South West).
Unlike Ratafia and Pineau, the Cartagène stayed a local delicacy. You can find it in other parts of France but it’s nowhere as famous and common.
The Cartagène is served on several occasions but it’s usually drunk as an apéritif or to accompany a dessert.
The history of this drink is very similar to the Ratafia’s. It used to be made by winemakers for their own consumption. The Languedoc is an important wine region in France and the surplus of grapes can be huge at times.
Best French cocktails
When we think of rum, we rarely associate it with France. Yet, this is one of the most common misconceptions as France is a large producer of rum. Wait, what? I hear you say! Yep, you’ve read that right. France is not only is a continental European country, it also has many overseas territories including in the Caribbean.
The Ti-Punch is a famous cocktail from the island of Martinique which became a french favourite! “Ti” is the creole equivalent of “petit” in French. It means “Small punch”.
It is made with rum, dark sugar and lime. It’s very similar to the Daiquiri and Caipirinha. The noticeable difference is that it’s made with a traditional type of rum, the Rhum Agricole. Unlike most rums in the world, the Rhum Agricole uses sugarcane juice rather than molasses.
A Panaché is a mixed drink made with beer and lemonade or sparkling water. It is known in the English speaking world as a Shandi.
Although the recipe itself is pretty international, it has become a popular french drink especially when it’s mixed with some Perrier.
French people enjoy drinking Panachés during hot summer days before a barbecue or while playing Pétanque. As it’s low in alcohol, it’s also a good choice for people who don’t want to drink much or are driving.
A French Monaco is a drink made of grenadine syrup, beer and lemonade. To put it simply, it’s a shandy with Sirop.
This is a popular choice in summer as it’s very refreshing and won’t get you drunk. The level of alcohol is pretty low which means you can drink a couple and still be able to drive.
You can order it in any french bars, it’s a common request. It’s also pretty cheap so that’s a great option if you are on a budget!
La Jacqueline is a french cocktail that was invented in South West France. It is a convivial drink that you share with friends. Some people even nicknamed it a “Jaja”.
It is made with grenadine, white wine and lemonade. It is a bit stronger than a Monaco, perfect for people who don’t want to drink too much alcohol but still a bit more than a beer.
It is extremely popular in summer and during the famous ferias in the Basque country.
The kir is France’s favourite cocktail. The original version is made with crème de cassis and white burgundy wine however, you can find a fancier version: the Kir Royal!
This one uses some crème de cassis as well but instead of adding wine, you add champagne!
It’s delicious and you will probably want to drink more than one!
It’s a good apéritif as well and is usually served during parties, weddings or Christmas. The original version, the Kir, is cheaper to make and therefore more common. French people often order a kir in bars, especially in the evening.
We previously explained what a pastis was and how to drink it. A perroquet is an enhanced version of that. To make one, you need to pour a tiny bit of mint syrup, add the pastis and ice cubes before topping up with water.
Perroquet in French means “parrot”. This name was chosen because the drink is completely green which gives it this exotic vibe.
I recommend you try it even if you are not a fan of Pastis as it tastes completely different. If you don’t like mint and anise at all though, it might not be your thing.
The best French Wines
France is home to 11 wine regions and hundreds of vineyards. More importantly, it produces the best wine in the world!
As a visitor, you will be spoilt for choice! On top of that, the amazing thing about French wine is that it’s excellent value for money.
For 5 euros, you can get a very decent bottle. For 10 euros, you will get one of the best wines of your life!
The French drink wine almost every day. They don’t get drunk with it. They simply enjoy sipping a glass of red or white with their meal.
Some people would even say “A glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away.”
The Monbazillac is a sweet wine produced in the village of Monbazillac in Dordogne.
It is protected by an appellation (AOC) which includes 2,000 hectares of vineyards. This means that all wines labelled Monbazillac are made in this area. You may find some similar ones but they won’t be able to be named as such if they were not made there.
It is an excellent choice for people who love sweet white wine. It’s one of the best! The only one that can beat it is the Sauternes but it’s a bit more expensive.
The Monbazillac is made with 3 varieties of grapes: Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle.
You can find it in every supermarket in France. A bottle costs between 6 and 11 euros.
When it comes to sweet white wine, the Sauternes is the superstar!
It uses less Muscadelle than the Monbazillac but is just as sweet. You can easily recognise it thanks to its golden colour. It is made in the region of Graves near Bordeaux.
It’s a must-try for all white wine lovers! It goes perfectly with a patisserie.
You should be able to find it in most supermarkets. A bottle generally costs between 10 and 20 euros.
If you prefer red wine, a Saint-Emilion will be perfect for you. It’s one of the best wines produced in the region of Bordeaux. Saint-Emilion is a small village, only 30 minutes away from Bordeaux city centre.
Saint-Émilion wines are predominantly made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Some of them are known to be the most expensive wines in the world!
If you are visiting South West France soon, it’s well worth visiting Saint-Emilion. You can go on a wine tasting and walk around the vineyards. It’s very good fun.
The Most Famous French Champagnes
This is definitely the most famous drink in the world. The Champagne is an amazing fizzy wine, usually consumed for celebrations or parties. French people do not drink Champagne every day.
It would be very expensive! But it’s true that if they want to celebrate something, that’s the first thing they will think of!
Veuve Clicquot is one of the best and most expensive champagnes in France. Founded in 1772 by Phillip Clicquot, the house has grown to become the most famous Champagne in the world. It even was Jacquie Kennedy’s favourite drink!
Although Philippe Clicquot officially started the business, it’s his wife, Madame Clicquot who is credited with the most major breakthroughs.
The Champagne house was named after her and she was even nicknamed the “Grande Dame de Champagne”.
Since, Veuve Clicquot has grown to become one of the largest producers of Champagne in the world and was acquired by Louis Vuitton in 1986. The vineyards are located in Verzy. If you are interested in learning more, you can opt for a tour of their cellars.
Moët & Chandon
Moët & Chandon is a famous brand of champagne. The house was established in 1743 by Claude Moët. Today, it is owned by Louis Vuitton and produces over 28 million bottles per year!
It’s particularly popular abroad especially since it’s great value for money. It’s not a cheap bottle but it is pretty affordable for champagne while being very good.
You can find it in almost every bar in the world!
The vineyards are located in Epernay, one of the most famous small towns in Champagne.
Whislt most Champagne houses were bought by massive corporations in the past 3 decades, some of them have resisted and are still family-owned. This is the case of Laurent-Perrier.
The house was founded in 1812. It was sold a couple of times since but it’s still a family-ran business which is quite rare. It took more time for Laurent-Perrier to become a famous champagne but you can now find it in 160 countries around the world. It’s the third best-selling champagne in the world after Veuve Clicquot and Moët.
The Best French Digestives
A digestif (also known as “digeo”) is the exact opposite of an apéritif. It is drunk after a meal, especially a big one, and is meant to help you digest faster.
It usually is a very strong alcoholic drink which is why it’s served in a small glass (like shot glasses).
The Calvados is a famous french drink from Normandy. As the name may suggest, it comes from the Department of Calvados.
This is one of the most popular digestives in France. It’s delicious but it definitely has quite a kick to it!
It is essentially an apple brandy but you shouldn’t expect it to be anything like an English brandy. It’s way stronger! Calvados has a minimum alcohol content of 40% ABV! It is made from distilling cider and is aged for a minimum of 2 or 3 years.
People drink it all around France but it is particularly common in north-west France where it’s consumed after a meal or half-way through a big meal.
The Calvados is under the AOC regulations. There are 3 appellations of Calvados. This is a great thing for consumers as no matter where you buy your Calvados from, if the bottle does state “Calvados” it means it was made in Normandy.
The Absinthe is definitely one of the most famous French drinks! With 45–74% ABV, it is known for being one of the strongest alcoholic beverages in the world!
In terms of digestive properties, this is as good as it gets. The high concentration of alcohol can make any huge meal disappear very quickly however, it’s also why you shouldn’t abuse it!
It is nicknamed the “Fée Verte” (Gren Fairy) because of its beautiful green colour and is a very old drink that became insanely popular in the 19th century.
A lot of world’s famous authors and artists loved it including Hemmingway, Van Gogh and Oscar Wild.
Absinthe is so strong that it was thought to make people mad. The French poet Baudelaire was an avid drinker and it is thought that his masterpieces are the fruit of hallucinations due to absinthe. By 1915, it was banned from most countries (including the USA). Since then, things have changed and the Absinthe has made a comeback. It is now produced in 12 countries. You can find it in supermarkets in France.
The best way to drink absinthe is with cold water. Like a pastis!
The Cointreau is an absolute gem! It comes from Angers in France and is a liquor. It can be drunk as an apéritif or digestif, it’s up to you. Most people drink it after their meal but it can very well be before.
This triple-sec orange-flavoured liquor is very versatile. It’s usually consumed on rocks but can also be added in cocktails.
The Cointreau is an essential ingredient for many cocktails including the White Lady, Cosmopolitan and Margarita. For this reason, you will find it in every country in the world! You may have never known that but it’s actually very likely that you have tried it before!
You can find it in all supermarkets in France. The bottle is orange which is easy to spot. That said, the liquor itself is colourless.
Cognac is the most famous brandy in France. It comes from the small town of Cognac in Charente. The name and recipe are protected by an appellation.
It’s made with only one type of grape, the Ugni Blanc, and has to. be distilled twice before being placed in an oak barrel for a couple of years.
Cognac is consumed like whiskey. There are two ways to drink it:
- On rocks (with 2 ice cubes).
- At room temperature with a drop of water.
In a supermarket, a bottle will cost around 20 euros but it can get quite expensive if you opt for an aged one.
The Armagnac is another type of brandy. It’s very similar to Cognac but doesn’t come from the same region. Armagnac originated in Gascogne (South West). Unlike Cognac, the Armagnac is made with several types of grapes which gives it a bit of a different twist.
The other main difference is that it’s only distilled once instead of twice.
The Armagnac is a traditional drink, made by small local producers. It matures in barrels for years!
In terms of historical background, it’s been around for over 700 years, making it the oldest brandy in France!
The best French sodas and soft drinks
France is not big on sodas. It is from the most hated drink category however, there are a few typical French sodas and soft drinks to be aware of.
Sirop à l’eau
The sirop is France’s favourite soft drink. As the name suggests it is a sort of syrup however it is something you would drink with water.
It’s similar to squash in Britain. The “Sirop” is usually made from fruit (although you can find all flavours nowadays). It’s a rather thick liquid that once mixed with water becomes a delicious soft beverage.
This is the best kid’s drink in France. French children drink some every day, especially in summer. That having been said, adults like it just as much! It can also be used in coffees and cocktails.
The most famous Sirop is the Grenadine. This comes from the word “Grenade” meaning pomegranate in French, which is the main ingredient.
It is common for people to order a sirop à l’eau in bars (for children or for themselves as an afternoon drink). You can also find bottles in all supermarkets. As a matter of fact, you may be surprised by how big the syrup section is in France. It’s rather cheap and last for a very long time.
The Diabolo is also an all-time favourite, especially for children. It is a simple mixture of “Sirop” with lemonade. It’s a bit sweeter than a Sirop à l’eau and fizzy.
You can order one in a bar or make it yourself at home. Just drop a bit of sirop at the bottom of the glass (0.5 cm), fill the rest up with lemonade, add a couple of ice cubes and you’re done!
It’s a very refreshing drink that is widely consumed in summer.
If you are heading to France and want to try one in a bar, they will ask you which flavour you want. There is no need to ask them which flavour they have as they usually have dozens. If you love sweet drinks, try the caramel one. If you’d rather a classic, a grenadine, strawberry or mint diabolo will be best.
Perrier is a brand of natural bottled mineral water in France. France is known for its water everywhere. Let’s take Evian for example. It may be expensive abroad but it is the one water brand you are sure to find everywhere.
Perrier is different as it is slightly fizzy. You can think of it as the french version of San Pellegrino. A lot of French people drink it every day. It’s particularly popular amongst older people. That said, it doesn’t mean young people don’t drink it! They use it in cocktails. Most Mojitos in France are made with Perrier.
You can find it in all supermarkets. If you are in a restaurant, it will come in a glass bottle.
The Best French Hot Drinks
Although mulled wine is often associated with Germany, it is also a popular drink in France. We call it “Vin Chaud” which translates to “Hot Wine”.
It is made with red wine, spices and oranges. It is particularly popular in the mountains such as the Alps but you will also find it on every Christmas market in France.
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