Former French sheep herder brewing beer in Waverly

Patrick Beille fell in love with a Baltimore girl and craft-beer culture

  • Patrick Beille, shown with his wife Lauren, is a former French sheep herder, is one of the partners in the Peabody Heights Brewery.
Patrick Beille, shown with his wife Lauren, is a former French… (Provided by Patrick Beille,…)
October 26, 2013|Dan Rodricks

Someone forgot to tell Patrick Beille that French guys are supposed to make wine, not beer. Hard cider would fit the French profile more than beer. But that's what the fellow does — he makes beer.

The story of how Beille ended up in a brewery in the Waverly section of Baltimore starts in an idyll of the Old World, a little farm near a medieval village.

I know: Farming is hard, especially as a start-up. But when you're young, daring, energetic and ambitious, then what this fellow had near Martel, in Midi-Pyrenees, sounds too awesome to leave.

At least, that's my American view. Life simple on a farm in France, 21/2 miles from a 12th-century village on the tourist maps, with the Dordogne River nearby? What's not to like?

Beille bought the farm, some prematurely retired ewes and a good ram, and prepared for the birth of the first lambs.

"The smell of the barn, the muffled sounds of the herd resting at night and the peaceful feeling of taking good care of my animals was my reward," Beille says. "But I surely needed some more palpable rewards to live off."

By that, he didn't mean a girlfriend — we'll get to that in a minute — but a way to augment his fledgling business.

Before his adventure in Midi-Pyrenees, Beille had worked for Xerox in Paris.

"I admired the business mindset and efficiency of the organization," he says of that experience. "I really appreciated to be in an American corporation."

After a few years, he had made and saved enough money to buy the farm.

"So I left Xerox and Paris. I remember one of the top directors closing the door of his office and telling me, 'If you know of a wine-growing estate for sale in your region, please let me know. I'd like to do what you're doing.'"

But, of course, our hero did not have grapes in mind. He raised sheep and ducks.

To augment his business, Beille opened a shop in the center of Martel to sell duck pate and other products from his farm and from others in the region, a co-operative effort. The store offered foie gras, terrines, smoked duck breast, condiments, aperitifs and after-dinner cordials. They called the business Les Bouriettes. There was also a little restaurant.

Beille and four employees spent the fall and winter cooking and canning. The shop and restaurant opened in spring for the tourist season.

"I learned that a successful restaurant required a good location, a good atmosphere and good cuisine. We slowly built our reputation and became busy sending our products all over France."

Again, this is sounding ideal to me — hard work, for sure, but a growing business in a small French town that tourists visit in spring and summer.

Which is key to the next turn in the story.

One evening, a trip leader for Backroads, the California company that arranges bicycle and walking tours of the French countryside, came to check out the restaurant for one of her groups.

This is how, in an email to me the other day, Beille described falling in love with Lauren Manekin: "The exuberant Baltimore girl quickly turned the hardened single farmer into a candidate for immigration."

So you get the idea now.

Patrick and Lauren stayed about three more years in Martel. The work was all-consuming, Beille says, and while they loved the farm, animals and friends in Martel, they both wanted to have what he calls "a normal life." That would be something like 9-to-5 jobs with weekends free, and maybe even a few weeks of vacation each year.

Oh, yeah, sounds much better, no?

So Beille put the for-sale sign on the farm and Les Bouriettes.

He and his wife moved to Chicago. While getting accustomed to American life, Beille says, "I bumped into a liquor store." He was shocked at the array of beers for sale, particularly those crafted in small breweries.

"I spent an unreasonable amount of time reading beer labels," he says. "It was like going to the library. Coming from France and its wine culture, with wine labels quietly and politely posing on the shelves, what I could see in beer was the expression of a great creativity and freedom.

"I was picking up six-packs every week to educate myself to the beer culture. Then we visited a brewery. The smell of the brewing triggered something in me and I took seriously from then on my brewing aspirations."

He brought those aspirations to Baltimore. Lauren works as a fundraiser for the Y of Central Maryland. And Patrick, the former French sheep herder, puts all his energy into the Peabody Heights Brewery, a co-operative on 30th Street in Waverly where three brands are brewed – RavenBeer, Full Tilt and Beille's Public Works Ale. He and his partners brewed their first batches a year ago, and they're on their way.

As the French say, "La vie est trop courte pour boire de la mauvaises biere." (Life is too short to drink bad beer.) Salute!

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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