Heaven and Hell, updated
Well, it turned out all right. Although of course the battle of the fanfares was somewhat annoying, and restricted conversation somewhat, there was plenty of good beer on offer (and absolutely free for the tasting, which didn't prevent me from buying a lot of beer to take home), and the brewers were genuinely pleased to chat with me about their product, perhaps being unused to customers who actually knew something about brewing and actually liked flavorful, innovative brews.
Although craft brewing in France is still in its adolescence, and not really on par with the explosion in interesting beers in the US nowadays, there was still plenty of innovation on show. France's brewers are not as bound by tradition as in England or Germany--of course, if you're doing something right, why change it? Among some of the more unusual varieties, I tried a nougat beer (tasty but you wouldn't want more than one), a genepi beer (genepi is one of those Alpine specialties, like Chartreuse, that is made from medicinal herbs and tastes like Scope. Interesting but not for me), and a thyme beer (would be great with food in well-chosen situations). If I had one, my best-in-show vote would go to Alphand's Biere de Noel, with honorable mention to La Dauphine Ambree and Brasserie de la Loire's Guele Noire ("Black Mouth" brown ale).
Of course I spent most of my time talking to a Canadian who runs a brewpub in Chamonix, mostly about the Stanley Cup playoffs and whether Cam Ward or Marc-Andre Fleury should start at goalie for the Canadian Olympic team. If you're ever in Chamonix, which you should be, make sure to stop in and have a beer, eh?
As for the battle of the fanfares: The two competing bands would set up on opposite sides of a volleyball net, and take turns with their best tunes [photo]. The victors were chosen by applause meter, but with everyone drinking free, high alcohol-by-volume beer, I don't think anyone cared who won.