Four years ago, a pair of foodie loving friends decided to make beer together.
Little did they suspect at the time that they were embarking on an adventure that would lead to a Gold Medal from the International Agricultural Show at Paris and a successful business.
Business is now so good that Xavier Gombert and Jean Yves Fauste have moved into new premises and taken on new staff so they will be a team of five working in the Brasserie Artisanale de Sarlat from this autumn.
Mr Gombert previously worked in the Foie Gras industry and was the director of the Coopérative Artisanale de Sarlat.
Mr Fauste, a former World paragliding champion, worked in the tourism and restaurant trade for most of his life until, aged 54, he changed direction and became a brewer...
Tell us about your change of career
It was chance that got us talking about beer. I am not a great beer drinker, but I had some experience with Canadian friends who ran a brewery in Chamonix, where I used to live and then with other friends in Burgundy.
Xavier and I were talking and we decided to have a go. After our first batch, we thought, ‘why not turn it into a business?’. I was running a chambres d’hôte at the time, but have sold it since.
Was it difficult to make such a big change?
I have never done any job for very long, always enjoying new challenges.
I was first a sportsman and in 1988 I beat the world paragliding record for staying in the air for the longest time which was 11-and-a-half hours. That, though, was in the early days of the sport and no-one is interested in that kind of record now.
I have not done paragliding for years.
I was very happy to try making beer. It is not so different from cooking for guests: it is all chemistry and creating something for people to enjoy.
Did it take you long to come up with the recipe for your particular beer?
The first beers we made we liked, but as we began selling, we realised we would have to change because they were too bitter for most people.
After that, it really did not take too long to come up with the different beers as we knew more or less what we wanted to achieve and how to do so.
We have never made lots of small quantity testers. We have nearly always made one big batch of a new beer, and it has worked.
We have seven beers: Blonde, Blanche, Ambré, L’Adorée, India Pale Ale, Walnut and a Winter Beer.
We won the Gold Medal with the Blonde – we do not really know why we were successful, but are grateful that the judges who tasted it liked it.
How do you make your beer?
The first procedure involves three vats. In the first crushed malt is mixed with hot water to form a mash.
It is then transferred to the second vat, where it is filtered and we recuperate the liquid, which is then boiled at 100°C in the third vat. Hops are added at the start to introduce the chosen level of bitterness, and more hops are added at the end after about an hour to bring flavour.
This mixture is then rapidly cooled from 100°C to 20°C and transferred to fermentation tanks where yeast is added and where it is left for several days, until fermentation is complete.
The beer then rests for around three weeks at 4°C before it is bottled.
What makes your beers different from any others? There are so many on the market now that it must be difficult to be original?
There are so many factors involved, that it is more difficult to continue making exactly the same beers than to produce new ones.
The quality of the water is very important. We are lucky that when our supply was tested in our new, larger premises in Sarlat, no traces of pesticide were found.
We heat the water before we use it, to get rid of any chlorine and we eliminate some of the limestone as the water is very hard here.
A little hardness is good, but not too much. Then we must choose malt according to how much it has been roasted. You get chocolate, coffee overtones when it is highly roasted and caramel at medium levels.
The malt is crucial to the end result. The hops are also vital. They are in the same family as cannabis and it is the resin which gives the bitterness, and we have to judge how much to use.
Temperature, fermentation periods, yeast, everything counts. Even the type, size and age of machinery and vats we use make a difference. So everyone’s beer is original.
Where do you get your raw materials?
The aim is to get them locally and we hope to do that from next year as we have found a farmer who grows barley at nearby Beynac and a hop grower not far away at Hautefort.
What is the difference between your beers and industrial beers?
We only use the basic ingredients: barley, hops, water and yeast. They add other ingredients and stretch them to get the most out of them. For example, once we have filtered the beer, the residue malt goes straight for cattle feed. An industrial producer will reuse the filtered malt.
Why are artisanal beers so popular?
There are around 1,600 breweries like ours and new ones are opening every day. The local aspect is very important: people like to drink a beer that comes from their own town.
We hope to get an organic label for one of our beers and that is important too. Also people like to have a choice, and it makes beer a much more interesting drink if there are lots of different ones to taste and compare.
Lots of small breweries don’t make it, though. You have to produce a certain amount to remain profitable.
We have doubled our output and the size of our vats, which now hold 2,000 litres at a time. In the summer, which is our peak period, we brew three or four times a week and sell between 15,000 and 20,000 bottles a week.
Marketing is also very important. At first, our labels were not very attractive, so we gave the job to a respected local advertising agency who worked to our brief and gave us a choice of three.
People first choose a bottle in a shop by the attractiveness of the label and will then come back if they also like the beer.
Starting out is also a big investment because there is a lot of equipment involved. We have put €600,000 into the business, so you have to be confident you are making the right move.
Has it been a good change of career?
It is very exciting at the moment because we are still growing.
We never expected it to be so successful and certainly did not think we would ever win a Gold at Paris.
We have 250 different clients, including shops and restaurants and we have just started a range, called Le Fût Sarladais which will be sold in supermarkets and so our beer should soon be available across France. It is a real pleasure to create something that people enjoy drinking.