Tucked away behind two large, garage doors down a side street leading from the central Place in Eymet, the smell of hops cooking permeates the long, narrow room that was once the old abattoir. It is lit with several strip lights and is crammed full of fermenting tanks, barrels, bags of malt and William's beloved motorbike. William has just brewed his first 80 gallons of English real ale and can't wait to start telling me about it.
It all began in the UK where the pubs closed at 11 pm and William began to brew his own beer so that he could enjoy a pint whenever he wanted. When he came to live in the Dordogne in 2002 he really missed a drop of draught real ale and decided to start up a small brewery to make traditional English beer, not only for himself, but to sell to others. But it wasn't until 2004 when he bought all his equipment second hand when things really got going. A French business was formed, planning permission was sought for a brewery and in 2005 he was given the status of "Brasseur". When a huge fire damaged most of the building soon after, William was left picking up the pieces. Today he has bounced back and the beer-making process is well and truly underway.
It is early days of course but William is in no rush, preferring to get things right before he starts to market his beer. "Every batch of beer will be different." he says. "At first there will be variations and I can't guarantee that the beer will be the same every time. The beer will evolve and I will give each batch a new name after whichever Saint's day it happens to be that day. I started my first one on the 25 November 2006, Saint Catherine's day, so I named it Saint Catherine's Ale." he adds proudly. When William has decided on the formula to produce the best beer, only then will he give the beer a definitive name, which he says could well be 'Abattoir Ale'. "I thought I might get some t-shirts printed with ' I got slaughtered on Abattoir Ale' across the front." he jokes.
With the large English-speaking community that penetrates life in the Bastide town of Eymet, one would have thought that it would be easy to sell English beer. However, the response from the local bars has been a hesitant one and it's because of the issue of keeping the beer at the right temperature. To overcome the problem William is currently working on refrigeration methods for the summer and the lounge in his apartment above the brewery, strewn with various types of piping and gadgets, is a testament to his efforts.
William has 4 fermenters and 4 conditioning tanks that can each hold 800 litres of beer giving him the capacity for making 3,200 litres of beer a week (128 x 25 litre barrels). The brewing cycle takes approximately 2 weeks which allows 1 day to prepare and cook the hops, 3-4 days for fermentation followed by a week's conditioning.
Asked what it is he likes about France William replies. "The lack of traffic and the fact that people are more friendly and less aggressive. Cheap property also means that I am not continually on the treadmill of a mortgage ladder. I like the old fashioned charm of Eymet where the shops close for lunch. It's like England was 30 years ago."
And does he speak French? Educated in French to O-level, William set off to France for the first time on an exchange trip when he was 14 years old. He says that since then he has always made an effort and isn't scared to say he doesn't understand something. He watches French TV (he doesn't have British TV) and his favourite program is "A prendre ou a laisser" (the French equivalent to 'Deal or No Deal') which, he says, is really helpful in developing the language skills.
With a Ugandan wife and stepdaughter living in the UK, William currently lives alone and hopes that when his stepdaughter's education in the UK is finished that the family will all live together in France in the future. With his fifty-fourth birthday just around the corner, William has no great ambitions for his Bastide Brewery, he would just like a "nice little income and, more importantly, quality of life."
By Janice Moody, Dordogne English News, Sud-Ouest Publicity