Former French sheep herder brewing beer in Waverly

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

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.

 
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