French beer on tour
Saturday 30 July 2022
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Mont Hardi has a unique origin story, being a young brewery born to prosperous parents, and brings a fresh perspective and approach to this issue by nature of its being brought up in a French market. The customer base and market insight Mont Hardi has inherited from the V and B franchise has allowed it to be both refined in its approach to brewing, and informed in decision making it can base on 24 years of national success. To get a better idea of the brewery's history, identity, and vision for the future, I speak to Andrew Goulet, head brewer turned brewing consultant for Mont Hardi.
V and B - short for Vins et Bières (Wine and Beer) - took root in 1998, when neighbours turned friends, Jean-Pierre Derouet and Emmanuel Bouvet pulled down the wall that separated their wine cellar and beer bar, to create a combined bar and bottle shop. V and B thinks of itself more as a concept than a location, and encourages customers to engage with each other as much as they do the vast range of beer, wine and spirits sold there. Its aim is to promote togetherness, and celebrate all the ways in which great beer and wine feature in shared scenarios and experiences. The success of its mission is best exhibited in the 300 nationwide V and B franchises that have opened in the 24 years since Jean-Pierre and Emmanuel set out their shared business venture. V and B has also recently broken into the UK market, opening its first branch in Northampton just a few months ago.
Fast forward some 21 years and enter Mont Hardi. Based in Château-Gontier, a locality within the Pays de la Loire region in western France, the Mont Hardi brewery consolidates V and B’s roots in the town from which it started out, and provides a contrast to the universality of nationwide franchise. The beers brewed by Mont Hardi are profoundly local; beer and wine are focal points of the town the brewery is based in, meaning the beers are shaped by quick and keen local feedback, imparted at local events.
The brewery currently produces about 2500 hectolitres a year
“The craft brewing industry in general is now quite like most industries,” says Andrew. “In a lot of instances it's quite driven by global trends and what’s selling, as opposed to what's local. What I think is nice about this brewery is that we're now able to do a blend of both things. For us, it’s not necessarily about styles… in France there aren't too many historical styles, beer drinkers are more focused on the colour of the beers – you know, think blonde, blanche, bruin, noir – which we’re trying to get away from a bit… but equally we want to adapt a global style that’s really popular now, to use local fruit or spices, or something that’s in season.”
Mont Hardi also works with local farmers to source locally grown grains and hops, as well as adjuncts like beets, and is even currently working with a local chocolatier to make a Belgian Brown. These ingredients and collaborations feature across both main lines of Mont Hardi beer, the first of which pertains to more classical styles, while the second is more experimental.
The brewery itself currently produces about 2500 hectolitres a year, with capacity for 10,000. The reason for its reduced output currently is that the brew kit shares the space with a newly installed distillery that’s so far been used to make whiskey. Andrew tells me there’s quite a lot of space for expansion within the brewery as it exists, and that in the future, it’s an aspiration of Mont Hardi’s to expand sales further into independent bars and bottle shops outside of the V and B chain. For the time being, the Beer52 order for this box is the extent of Mont Hardi’s export endeavours, so subscribers can count on this beer being a taste of Pays De La Loire that they’ll have to travel to get their hands on again.
Mont Hardi has brewed us a Kölsch, one of my favourite styles at the moment and which Andrew said they enjoyed making for export because the style, erring on the side of classic German, isn’t all that popular in the French craft beer market but is thriving on the global stage. Kölsch strikes at that middle territory between a clean fermenting lager and an esther forward ale, using ale yeast to ferment classic malts at lower temperatures than would usually be used in ale production. The result is a smooth, light bodied beer with an elegant esther profile, and notable mouthfeel, all thanks to yeast contributions.
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