Sylvain Henriet-Benoist, the brewer
This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.
I met Sylvain Henriet-Benoist at his micro-brewery in Courcelles, Champagne, in order to discuss the beer that he makes in a region more known for its champagne. His brewery is called ‘Les 3 Loups’, or ‘The Three Wolves’, and recently celebrated its second birthday.
Can you please introduce yourself a little to our readers – your academic pathway and education and your work experience. Basically, what did you learn and do before opening your own brewery?
After I finished college [junior secondary education], I commenced laboratory sciences at lycée Libergier in Reims, where I studied scientific analysis, microbiology, biochemistry and biology. Then I did my Brevet Technicien Supérieur, or BTS, [senior secondary education] in an agro-alimentaire [food agronomics] pathway where we had an atelier, or workshop, framing our studies.
At this time, I was destined for work in the cheese making industry, and to do a stage at the end of the training in that industry, but there were few boutique cheese makers and the cheese making industry was made up of large, industrial structures.
I did my professional licence, still in the agro-alimentaire industry and, there, I had the possibility to do a project which entailed fabrication recipes for beer following a six month course in a brewery where I integrated into the team as a replacement for the brasseur (beer maker) who taught me and who later left the company. I therefore obtained a position with responsibility for quality and, equally, the maintenance, where I stayed for a year and a half working in the same micro-brewery.
Following that, I worked for 18 months for a Parisian company where one could do a degustation of the beer made in-house, then in Belgium, in a large brewery with a large selling capacity and effective marketing techniques.
At the end of 2008, I returned to Trélou, in France, where, after having worked in diverse industries that didn’t interest me, I precipitated my project to establish my own brewery beginning with creating my recipes, modifying them then commencing commercialisation in October 2009. The production is, today, triple what it was then and I hope that, in the next stage, I am able to propose my products to restaurants, bars, etc.
We are in Champagne and there is a real culture of champagne around here. Is there also an appetite for beer?
It is worth knowing that, at one time, there were many regional breweries but that they were bought up, one by one, until they became just a few big breweries today, who monopolise everything.
The commercialisation of champagne for all – when it became less exclusive and more accessible – only came after the war but everyone has been drinking beer, cider and white wine for much longer than that.
Here, we don’t drink champagne because it is champagne, we drink champagne because it is a local product, it is not an imported product, it is not a product that we must search far for. There is a confidence, a trust, in the proximity to production. People like the local products, so, here we can choose our wine because we like it, like certain winemakers like the beer equally. I have clients who are winemakers who love to drink beer because it is a change from champagne but it remains sparkling as well, like champagne.
There is a similarity in the production methods between beer and champagne; notably, that it is fabricated by fermentation, that it uses a tank, the same tool to bottle etc. The two professions understand each other without competing with each other.
What products do you sell? What are the different types of beer?
I really like Belgian-inspired beers because all the products are complex, rich, well-worked. We have a white beer, a blonde beer and an amber beer. All are non-pasteurised and non-filtered. We don’t have spiced or aromatised beers, it’s truly the basic beers. All the beer is 6.5% alcohol which is a good compromise in order to maximise the conservation of the beer and, as well, isn’t too strong.
What is the difference in taste between the three different types of beer?
We have the white beer which is very light in the mouth, with a very floral overture, notes of citrus, notes of wheat. It is very refreshing, and a little sweet. The blonde beer is more complex almost with notes of roasted malt, a little more dry in the mouth, with more body. The amber beer, it is with a note of roasted malt, caramel, a bitterness which is still light enough.
In your work, what do you do each week – what is your routine?
There is a first day where we prepare the brewing, the ingredients, the water, the malt, the crushing of the grain. We prepare the tank in order to be sure that everything is clean. Then, the next day, we do the beer making and fermentation. In order to be able to put the beer in the tank, the tank must first be empty; therefore, it is necessary to do the bottling before applying the labels.
We do the bottling in order to put the products into cartons and then for delivery to the clients and do the billing. It is necessary to regularly order and obtain all the consumables – the cartons, the malt, the labels. After, there are other activities as well, like thinking of new products, marketing, doing publicity etc.
How does one make beer?
The principle, for all fermented drinks, is that there must be a source of sugar in order to be fermented by the yeast, which gives the alcohol. For beer, it is starch, the extract barley which has been transformed into malt, and the reason for transforming the starch into simple sugar and non-fermentable sugar is that is gives the body to the beer through the action of enzymes.
We do a soup of malt and hot water which is called la maische, or the mash. Then we extract the juice from the crushed husks that we boil during the boiling stage and we add hops in order to give the desired bitterness. Next we cool the mix and put in the fermentation tanks with yeast, where it will rest between seven and 15 days until the end of the primary fermentation.
We bottle this juice with the addition of sugar to obtain a second fermentation which gives the sparkling quality to the beer.
What are the things that you enjoy in your job and also the things that you don’t enjoy?
The proximity to the products. I’m not in an office; I am in permanent contact with the products. I also like working alone because I make all the decisions, I have all the responsibility and that means that it is also my errors. I can’t say that it’s someone else’s fault, if something is good or not, it’s me. I also like the contact with the clients, for talking about beer. What I like a little less? Sometimes it is a little difficult; there is pressure to earn money.
What do you hope for ‘Les 3 Loups’ in five years’ time? Where do you see it?
I would like to export in the future but maybe not in the next five years – to Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy. In the first instance, continuing good work in the Champagne-Ardenne and Picardie regions. Afterwards, for recognition, selling in Paris and the other regions of France. However, I prefer to sell around here because to get a truck to take three pallets to the south of France, it’s not coherent, it’s not logical – people have breweries in the south of France. Therefore, the idea is that I make a product for the region here.
Sylvain, thank you very much for your time – it was a pleasure to talk with you to learn more about beer.
If you would like more information about Sylvain’s brewery, ‘Les 3 Loups’ you can visit the website: http://brasserie-les3loups.com/ or check out its Facebook page. If you find yourself in Champagne or Picardie one day, be sure to visit the brewery and taste ‘Trois Loups’ for yourself!Image credits: All images by Shannon Guy.
1. Sylvain Henriet-Benoist in the brewery “Les 3 Loups”
2. The three beers produced at the brewery “Les 3 Loups”.