New Hoppy Brews in Brantes La Géante de Provence la Bière du Ventoux
La Géante de Provence is a new microbrewery located in the perched village of Brantes. Naming the beer might have been the easy part of a process that has taken the co-owners Rory White and Pascale Merlette-Lagarde well over two years of talking, planning, ordering and finally brewing. As brewmasters, this duo might seem like an unlikely pair. Rory was entrenched in the recruiting field in the United Kingdom for 25 years, and Pascale remains involved in her local vegetarian/vegan restaurant, La Poterne. However, it appears to be fate and the jaw-dropping setting of Brantes that brought the two of them together.
This once fortified village sits on the border of the Vaucluse and the Drome Provençal. Flanked on one side by the vertical cliffs of Mont Ventoux the town is suspended above the Toulourenc Valley. A century ago, Brantes was in a hamlet in ruins, with a scant population, today there is a small vibrant community that attracts tourists looking for the quieter parts of Provence. The village is home to artists, traditional craft makers, and now an artisan brewery.
After a quarter-century in recruiting, 18 years running his own firm, Rory determined that there was more to life than head hunting. He says, “I had always wanted to create something around food or drink, something that would bring pleasure to people and was not just about making money.” Four years ago, he enrolled in a brewing course in London and began making beer at home.
Rory’s French wife Vanessa, a Shiatsu practitioner, introduced him to Provence, the village of Brantes, and her close friend Pascale. In 2016, the couple decided to pull up stakes in the United Kingdom and move to rural Provence with their four-year-old daughter. Although he admits that it was not easy finding the right moment to move, work and life in London were beginning to impact on his health.
When I first came to Provence on holidays and woke up in the village of Brantes my jaw dropped, it was so beautiful. I loved the fact that everyone kissed three sometimes four times, I loved the food, the surrounding mountains were a feast for my eyes, and I loved the feeling of connection and community. The lifestyle is very different from urban London; we live in the countryside.
Of course, the weather played a big part too. It’s pretty quiet especially in winter, but I love watching the weather change and storms riding up the valley. In June, the village is full of flowers, the nightingales sing in the evening, and it’s not too hot.
When I step off the plane in Marseille and feel the warmth of the south and the smell of the sea, I know that I am home.
According to Rory, it has been a long journey, moving from a production capacity of 20-litres per brew to their current setup of 600 litres. The equipment for La Géante de Provence was supplied by a Swiss brewer – Brewtower – and fabricated to meet exacting specification levels in China. The material arrived in October 2017, about five (5) months after the initial order. However, it took until February 2018 to get everything installed and operating.
Finding a suitable location with water supply and triple phase electricity was no small feat in this ancient village, with its cobbled streets, passageways and thick stone buildings
“It really did feel at one point like the whole system was pushing back against us.”
La Bière du Ventoux is now on their fifth brew using water directly from the source in the village, organic malt produced in Ardeche, and hops and yeast sourced within Europe. The first batches, traditional blond and amber brews, were brewed in the 20-litre system. A safe choice, but one that Rory says, “We both felt this wasn’t very bold and didn’t really reflect our connection to the valley or our personalities.”
Now, they have three beers. A Brantes Pale Ale, a spin on an English Ale, light and not too hoppy. An Indian Pale Ale, hoppier and darker in colour and a stout, a spin on an Irish dry stout with almost a coffee flavour. All these are available in 33cl and 75 cl bottles, as well as kegs for bars and events.
Brewing into the future: A small brewer such as La Géante de Provence is nimble enough to change their beer selection quickly or even play with monthly alternatives. For the moment, they plan to have regular three or four regular beers and produce one-off brews that utilise local ingredients such as honey and herbs.
How do you brew beer?
Brewing requires a lot of preparation.
First, the equipment is cleaned and disinfected. Then you grind 1-200 kilograms of malt grain. We start early in the morning around 7 am and heat 750 litres of water. Once this is done we soak the grain for 90 minutes to remove the sugar and then boil this liquid, which is called wort. As the liquid boils, we add the hops to provide bitterness and balance the sugar from the malt, as well as to add floral and fruity flavours. At the end of the boil, we cool the liquid and transfer to temperature-controlled fermenters with the yeast. Brewers often say the job of a brewer is not making beer; it’s controlling a suitable environment where the yeast can make the beer. The beer is ready four-five weeks later following a period of conditioning.
Beer and Food
Currently, La Géante de Provence is available in the village; at the brewery or Pascale’s restaurant, La Poterne. They hope to get the product into other local bars and restaurants while remaining true to their vision of a quality brand that works with the environment and local community.
“If the population appreciate good wine and good food, they will be open to good beer.”
Pairing food and beer might be the next step. Pascale serves the IPA in her restaurant, and her Assiette Poterne (goats cheese, vegetable tarte, tapenade, salad, and tomatoes) works brilliantly with this hoppy beer. For dessert, try her gâteau aux châtaignes (chestnut cake) and beer, of course.
Sipping and Eating in Brantes
La Géante de Provence
Tel: +33 (0)4 75 28 29 13
La Poterne le vieux village
Tel: +33 (0)4 75 28 29 13