Inspired by an episode of A Place in the Sun, Jayne and Paul Bayliss decided to jack in their media jobs in the UK and head to the Languedoc where they set up a craft beer brewery in the heart of wine country… not knowing a thing about making beer. Brasserie du Quercorb is almost 10 years old and has reached capacity – supplying the French on-trade with a range of award-winning ales, through their on-site brasserie and also off sales. Peter Dean met up with them just as they opened a new brewery that will triple production and see them able to supply a range of new export markets – including the UK.
One of the novel beers made by Brasserie du Quercorb is Velo Club – the specific gravity of each ale matching the average gradient of key Tour de France climbs.
There’s a romantic notion of having your own vineyard in France so what made you want to open a microbrewery instead?
We’re lucky to have great vineyards nearby. Ten years ago, France had a shoddy reputation for beer. We couldn’t find a beer that we wanted to drink. Putting up with that would have ruined our dream of French Rural Idyll!
Is craft beer a big thing in France?
Increasingly so, yes. As more small breweries launch, the standard of beer in France is improving. We’re seeing a great curiosity across all age groups with people keen to explore and understand beer.
Had you had prior experience of brewing beer?
We built our first brewery in 2009, it was a complete career change.
What is your beer-making philosophy?
Quality and consistency above all else. We want to make beers that are treated with the same respect as a decent bottle of wine. So, we only brew beers that we’d be proud to drink at the table. Natural products only. No animal by-products, no filtering, no pasturising, no cheating. Understand each of your key ingredients. Be consistent. Don’t be complacent. We never stop learning.
Take us through your range.
Our very first beer was an IPA and we’re still great fans of the style in all its forms, so 5 of our 23 beers this year were IPAs, from that we developed a fun session ale – low strength but packed with hop to replace the structure that the alcohol adds.
We’re very much into playing with yeast, so funky, fruity Saisons and a Biere de Garde always feature. On our doorstep are some class vineyards and we have some barrel ageing collaboration projects that we’re looking forward to releasing soon.
Good Malt is key to what we do, so we always have a couple of beers that let the malts sing – Vienna Lager and Strong Ales.
Stouts are wonderful; they allow the best of the malts and yeasts to shine and are very versatile for food pairings, so anything from a 4% Dry Stout to a 9% Armagnac Aged Imperial will always be on the list.
What are the most popular styles?
They are all pretty well received.
There is a fascination with the hop here. IPAs are still very much in demand.
We’re also working with a lot of restaurants who typically want less bitterness than IPAs – Saisons, Triples, Biere de Gardes, Stouts.
Happily, the days of categorising beers by Blanche, Blonde, Ambre or Brune are almost over. The market understands the subtleties of a good beer and is branching out.
What’s the thinking behind the beers-for-cyclists range?
The Velo Club range celebrates the Key Stage Climbs and riders of the Tour de France – the percentage of alcohol matches the average gradient of the climb. We released a limited edition each year, but they soon became part of our core range.
Paul is mad for beer and cycling, so he dreamt this one up.
Being in the midst of great cycling country, we’ve got a lot of cyclists who like to stop in for a ‘Post-Ride-Recovery-Protein-Pint’ (that’s a Stout/IPA/Blonde Ale).
What is your output and where are you selling most – off-trade versus on-trade?
We’re small, with a 500HL capacity, currently it’s 50/50 off-trade versus on-trade. We’re in the process of relocating the current brewery to bigger premises which allows us to triple production.
Your labels and the brewery/ brasserie have great (NYC) design values – how has this come about and how important is this for your business goals?
The perception of the bottle is every bit as important as the content. Our backgrounds were in television, so attention to detail and visual presentation is central to everything we do. The tasting wheel really helps people get a sense of what to expect which has been very helpful in an emerging market.
We tend to work with up-and-coming artists for our labels, there’s a satisfaction in seeing their art used in a practical, everyday sense.
You put great store in social media – how important is this community-building?
The brewing world is very small. Social media has definitely helped us become part of that global community. Plus, it provides instant connections with your customer base/ supplier networks and is great for keeping up with industry developments. It’s what you do with those connections that matters though – nothing beats picking up the phone or a face to face conversation.
In setting up the business, did you find it easy setting up the brewery in France or was there piles of red tape to go through?
Piles of torturous red tape.
More so than in the UK?
It seems so.
Is it easy to get the raw materials in France?
There’s still room for improvement.
What is the business climate like over there?
It’s a pretty exciting time, the market is expanding.
As long as the standard of craft beer remains high over here, the market will continue to expand. There are new breweries opening weekly throughout France though and they are learning their craft as they go, they’ve got tough days ahead.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Recognition for a product you’re proud of is always good. Being selected for the enclyopedia On Va Deguster La France was a nice thing. Medals go down well. Building a solid team in rural France is pretty cool.
Working with Chef Sylvain Joffre (Restaurant En Pleine Nature) and sommelier Alexandre Thellier is something we’re very proud of. They were the first restauranteurs (for us) who understood the potential for beer and food pairing. ‘Octobiere’ at their restaurant each year has become an event that I really look forward to.
Have the locals welcomed you with open arms?
Yes. Many people thought we were crazy to open a brewery and taproom in Wine Country, in the middle of nowhere (I particularly like seeing the doom criers enjoying a pint and taking a 6-pack home!).
Do you wish you’d got a vineyard instead?
I wish I had the wine cellar, but not the vineyard.
When will we see your beers in the UK?
There’s been interest despite the UK having so many great breweries to choose from. We’ve never had the volume to be able to consider it before, but we’re nearly ready now. It would be great to see our beers over there.
Going full circle: Jayne and Paul’s story has now been filmed by A Place in the Sun and will be aired in December 2018.