How One Style Penetrated Two Cultures
A cultural collaboration
Such a devotion to all things French, not surprisingly, brought about the opportunity to work on an international collaboration with Brasserie La Bambelle, in Saint-Gravé in the Brittany region of France. Neighbors and advocates for La Bambelle were in Bayou Teche’s neighborhood while attending “French Week,” a celebration of the French-speaking world, held in Lafayette in 2013. They met the Bayou Teche team and hatched the idea of collaborating.
Bayou Teche head brewer Gar Hatcher and La Bambelle brewer Gwennolé Legalloudec worked out a recipe over Skype, and Louis Michot (professional Cajun musician, native French speaker and Bayou Teche’s “Official Ambassador to the United States”) went to Saint-Gravé to help brew and to be present for its unveiling at a local festival. The name of the beer, Bayoust, comes from the Bayou Teche in Louisiana and the River Oust in France. Both bodies of water are adjacent to their breweries and provide sustenance and inspiration for each.
The breweries also contributed a local ingredient from each country to the malt bill: The beer was brewed with corn, which is a common crop in Louisiana, and buckwheat, the dominant grain in the Brittany area. Legalloudec says that the earthy and cereal notes that the buckwheat adds to the beer are most appropriate for a beer that comes from breweries with rural origins.
La Bambelle is not in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of the traditional French farmhouse breweries, and the beer brewed is not the classic bière de garde style pioneered in that area. The beers have a significant British/Celtic influence, based on how Brittany was originally settled. The Bayoust beer, according to Knott, is like a classic English ale but with a farmhouse funk. La Bambelle is one of the leaders in expanding what beer drinkers think French beer should be, as well as returning to the true farm-to-bottle philosophy of its Northern France forebears.
La Bambelle is working toward complete self-sufficiency with ingredients for its beer: The brewery uses the original family farm to grow and malt its own barley. Although it still sources hops externally, there are plans to grow those on the farm as well.
“It’s just so typical French and very close to us, because we use so many local things, things that grow wild on our land,” says Michot, who also noticed a similarity in both breweries existing in an outside subculture, Bayou Teche in Cajun Louisiana and La Bambelle in the Brittany region of France.
“La Bambelle is doing exactly what we’re doing, but for their culture. They name all their beers in Breton; they’re brewing in their style, which, in Brittany, is an English style. This is a very small brewery, so it’s amazing that we were paired with another cultural brewery, without even realizing it.” Michot says with a laugh, “So Karlos thought it would be this nice, quaint cultural exchange with a French culture, and it turned into a much larger parallel and learning experience for both of us.”
The similarities between the Bretons and Cajuns also applied to the efforts to homogenize a national culture, Michot adds. “Just as Cajun French, and French in general, was not allowed in Louisiana in the early 1900s because of Americanization, the Bretons went through the exact same thing with their language and culture. They had to become nationalist and stop being a subculture.”
Now, however, the Bretons in France are seeing a resurgence of their Celtic-influenced agrarian culture, as are the Cajuns in rural Louisiana. There are movements to bring the dialects back into the educational systems, and the unique regional cuisine and music are also coming back from the brink of extinction.
Read bière de garde tasting notes.
This story appears in the September issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.
Nora D. McGunnigle
Nora D. McGunnigle writes about beer and lives in New Orleans. Check out her work at nolabeerblog.com and follow her on Twitter @noradeirdre.