Jungle drums started beating, my chum from brassage-amateur tipped me off that there was a portes-ouvertes at a local brewery. It doesn’t take much more motivation than that – day trip ahoy!
I did a little search online for all breweries in France. Nothing in our immediate area. Nearest to us is the Brasserie de Bellefois in the Vienne, been there, done that. Next nearest is Brasserie des Fontaines up north in Maine et Loire – so off we go. Zip over to Vienne to collect Yann, my brew-buddy and then into the winelands we go! Always love driving through these areas. The differing terroir unfolds in front of you as you roll through countryside that hasn’t changed in centuries. We’re very shortly in serious wine country. Dessert wines from the Coteaux du Layon Saint-Lambert get stellar scores from Robert Parker/Wine Spectator and have a price tag to match. So, a bold move for a young lady to set up a brewery in this area – I love the chutzpah!
To the village of Les Verchers-sur-Layon for a visit to the brewery which has been open for a few years now. Set up in a converted hangar we were greeted by a small oven burning dried vine clippings and offering some delightful snacks.
Small bread Galipettes – very similar to a fat pitta bread hot from the oven with garlic butter, some artisanal jams or a giant tub of rillets? Then hot roasted field mushrooms with garlic and grain mustard? Non stop food was on offer to complement the non-stop free beer. Superb – just like being at home!
We were greeted by our hostess Anne-Catherine Sailley. She was on hand to run through tours of the brewery for a never ending series of visiting groups.
Good to see a small scale operation like this which wasn’t a million miles from what a home brewer might do. I listened in on a couple of her talks and there were some genuinely insightful questions from some people – fascinating stuff.
My friend Yann was bringing up the rear and chipping in his knowledge of brewing too. Any passing visitor was fair game!
So. Down to business. Beer.
The beer was free flowing, we sampled through the range of house beers and also got to taste some limited run speciality beers. I think for me the beers all had a pronounced Belgian style and were a world apart form the usual faire – all very high quality. My standout fave was the Sarcophagus. Jet black, sweet, loads of caramel malt and layers of liquorice and toffee and a fairly robust 8.5%. A slow sipping stunner.
It was good to see the small batch nature of the original brewhouse and have a good poke around the equipment and ingredients. There was a transition under way with lots of shiny new fermenters that had only just been installed but not yet commissioned. It’ll be great to return in the future to see it all in operation and impressive to think that it’s by and large all a one-woman operation.
I managed a brief discussion on one of my pet topics. Home malting. Anne-Catherine had a tray full of germinated barley and a small scale roaster to allow her to both deal with local grains for one of her special brews (Organic barley from nearby and wild hops gathered locally) and also to produce malts to her own recipe. I can produce some excellent batches of my own crystal malts here but I do get quite a dark toast on them – i find it difficult to do a low temperature kilning in my current oven. Anne-Catherine offered up my choice of malts from her stocks so I left double-happy. Cases of beer and sacks of grain in the boot of the car!
Full marks to Joan who, despite the photographic evidence, was a picture of restraint, hardly touched a drop and chauffeured Yann and I around all day. So, a great day, very relaxed atmosphere, loads of visitors all getting to see the works of a small artisanal brewer, taste beer and case after case of it was walking out the door. Good times!
As usual, full photoset is on flickr
So, about that no-brasseries-in-the-Deux-Sevres-thing? Someone should do something about that.