Published on September 3rd, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Off piste and on the ball
Tim Longstaff and Ash Smith, two young men from Stockton in County Durham, are brewing an adventurous portfolio of beers in the French Alps, combining North East passion with German engineering. And they’re impressing the neighbours. Cheers asked Tim a few questions
I presume it was skiing and the great outdoors that took you both to the French Alps.
Exactly, I moved to the Alps after leaving Newcastle University in 2013 to do a ski season. Over my time at uni I witnessed the craft beer revolution unfold in front of me – every other bar suddenly started to sell craft beer and bars like the Town Wall became regular haunts. During my first winter in Aime-la-Plagne I realised there was no craft beer here, and thought it would be pretty cool to brew beer in the Alps. Eventually, I managed to convince Ash it was a good idea and we decided to learn how to brew.
I guess as well, a shout out to Wylam Brewery and my friend Matt Allfrey, as he introduced me to Toon Waal, the beer they brew for the Town Wall pub. It was the first ‘proper’ beer I had ever had and basically changed my life.
Had either of you brewed before?
Not at all, but once we made the decision that a brewery as a business could work over here, we decided to try and learn as much as we could and brew as much as we could in a short space of time. We decided to invest in best we could afford so we could make better beer more quickly and bought into the Grainfather (homebrewing) system, plus Grainfather steel fermenters and a glycol chilling unit.
We spent a fair few months just developing one recipe, rather than constantly experimenting with loads of different styles. I think that although there is obviously a lot of room for experimenting, you learn more by trying to brew the same thing consistently. After about six or eight months we had a beer we were happy with and then committed to going ‘pro’. We knew that craft beer was on the verge of an explosion here in France, so we decided we had to act fast.
Situated in the heart of the French Alps, our plant’s central location in the Tarentaise Valley allows us to supply local craft beer to the world’s three largest ski areas and beyond. Our beer is available mainly on tap in over a dozen great bars throughout the Savoie and Haute-Savoie regions.
The brewery name, Brasserie Sapaudia, translates from Latin into French as ‘le pays de sapins’ – the land of coniferous trees, so naming the company was easy. It was only right to acknowledge the huge impact this place has had on us.
What size of kit do you have?
We now have a five hectolitre brewhouse (although it’s actually more like seven hectolitres) and four 14-hectolitre fermenters. We use Brewiks equipment, a German brand, and are very impressed. The customer service is second-to-none; we have a WhatsApp group with Brewiks so we can ask the owner questions directly – and share brew ideas. I would seriously recommend anyone with minimal brewing experience looking to go pro, to consider Brewiks.
How are your beers being received around the area?
So far so good! We currently have a range of four beers, but hope to launch three new ones over the winter as specials, or to replace beers currently in the core range.
Where we are has a big UK ex-pat community crying out for some ‘proper’ beer. And then during peak winter and summer seasons, the resorts fill up with British tourists and seasonal workers. Traditionally in France, craft beers are described by colour, rather than style: blonde, blanche, ambrée etc, which is fine but a blonde here could be anything from a lager to a strong Belgian beer.
Anyway, we have tried to name and develop the beers with a local feel.
Our newest IPA, Lost In The Woods, is filtered through pine needles from the woods opposite our brewery. IPA in France is really on the up, not only the younger drinkers, but a lot of the older drinkers who would normally prefer a blonde beer will ask for an IPA. That caught us by surprise, we have been brewing IPA like mad all summer since.
Selling beer to the French market is quite different from at home – as is the way they actually go out and drink compared to Brits – but we are really focusing on becoming well known in the local area by doing various village fetes, weddings etc. We also do Piss-Ups in the brewery with food, music and beer which is always a hit.
BRASSERIE SAPAUDIA BEERS
Signal Alpine Blonde Ale (4.9% abv)
Sapaudia’s first beer, a classic British style blonde ale using Fuggles and Pilgrim hops. Honey on the nose and a smooth drinkability, perfect after a big day on the hill. Name inspired by a ski lift in Val d’Isere that accesses a big off-piste skiing area.
Cosmique IPA (5.8% abv)
American-style IPA, dry hopped with El Dorado and Amarillo, it certainly packs a punch but its limited bitterness means it is dangerously drinkable. Name inspired by Cosmique, a famous ski line in Chamonix.
Helbronner Helles Lager (5.0% abv)
A Munich-style Helles, cold conditioned for weeks at 0º – not much to say other than a classic! Name inspired by a French Alpinist and Cartographer.
Lost in the Woods IPA (5.0% abv)
The brewery’s latest IPA, dry hopped to high hell with Citra, the wort is filtered through fresh pine needles picked from trees opposite the brewery. Refreshing and perfect for summer evenings.