All posts by Sophie Wyckoff

An Arlesian brew

By Sophie Wyckoff

In 2016, after years of research and experimentation in his kitchen, Florent de Oliveira took the plunge and started Brasserie Artisanale Arlésienne (BAA), which now produces one of the most popular craft beers sold in Arles. 

De Oliveira is originally from Doubs, France, where he began a petrochemical engineering career, but he wanted to get involved in a profession that combined his passions – craftsmanship, nature and of course, good beer.

He launched his microbrewery in Saint Martin de Crau, 15 miles southeast of Arles. BAA is brewed with water extracted directly from under the brewery in the Crau Plain.

Elefante Remi, whose main job is to brew and prepare the beer for transportation, is the only other employee in the company.

Remi and De Oliveira’s workdays commence around 8 a.m. and end at approximately 6 p.m. From straight malt to bottling and ready for shipment, it takes around 8 to 10 hours for the entire process to occur. 

Once the brewing procedure is complete, the two men put the kegs in a warm room in their warehouse, otherwise known as a chamber. The kegs are then sent to clients, including businesses and individuals, in Arles. 

BAA has four types of beer: rice beer, hibiscus and its bestsellers, classic and brown beer. 

Photo by Sophie Wyckoff

“Our classic flavor is categorized as a blonde beer because the malt isn’t ground, which gives the beer a lighter color,” Remi explains, “while our brown beer has a chocolatey color because the malt has been ground.” 

The malt, wheat, rice and barley BAA uses are locally grown. De Oliveira carefully handpicks the hops and barley, selecting only the perfect ones to make his brew. De Oliveira strove for organic production, and his entire range of ingredients is certified as Organic Agriculture (AB) and European Organic Agriculture (Eurofeuille).

Remi and De Oliveira said brewing the perfect mixture demands pure water, hops for the bitterness and conservation of their beer, and malted barley, which will provide sugar that the yeast will feed on during fermentation. This combination develops into a sweet malt mixture that is then put into fermentation vats. The BAA is bottled semi-manually by its two employees and sent in cardboard boxes for shipment. 

Brasserie Artisanale Arlésienne is the most popular beer sold in town. When asked why or how his beer was so popular among the Arlesian people, De Oliveira responded jokingly, “Well, that’s easy; it is made with love.” 

De Oliveira pours his heart and soul into his company, making “this beer special in Arles because it is easier to drink and taste than most. I am my first customer, so why wouldn’t I want to enjoy the beer I make? This allows the public to enjoy it too.” 

BAA beers are now available in almost every grocery store, liquor store restaurant and bar and at local events in Arles.

A gin that tastes of the Camargue

By Sophie Wyckoff

After 14 years working in marketing and communications for L’Occitane en Provence in London, Thomas Bigourdan was ready for a change. A visit to a gin distillery gave him an idea.

“It was while I was visiting a distillery in the East of London that I started imagining my distillery,” he said.

In 2018, he founded Bigourdan Distillerie de Camargue, a gin distillery in Arles, that uses local products like immortelle (eternal flower), lavender, sage and thyme from the region to create a unique flavor. The gin is made from 13 ingredients, most of them grown in the Camargue.

“I wanted to make a ‘real’ London Dry, fairly classic and recognizable, then give it a sharp, almost brutal Camargue temperament,” he said in an interview posted on the company’s website. “I started from the sensations and impressions that can be experienced in the Camargue – the gasp, the salt crunching underfoot, the sand burned by the sun – to translate them into taste.”

Bigourdan said immortelle, tiny yellow flowers picked from the Camargue, give a warm and dry finish to the gin. Immortelle is also an antimicrobial compound that promotes skin cell regeneration and is used as an essential oil.

Customers browse in the Bigourdan shop in Arles. Photo by Sophie Wyckoff.

Currently, two flavors of gin are available to purchase, the original and the limited edition summer flavor, which includes essence of citrus. The limited edition is distilled in two batches which contain 500 liters, so when the product is gone, it’s gone. The original flavor and limited edition summer flavor come in a 50-centiliter bottle. The original sells for 41 euros, and the summer flavor for 43 euros.

On top of gin, Bigourdan also produces and sells three ready-to-serve cocktails. Negroni Matador uses the Immortelle plant for a maple syrup taste, Soho Negroni is a sweet orange taste, and the N°1 Negroni has a lemon and orange zest that grows at the foot of the distillery. The three bottles are packaged together for a selling price of 52 euros. 

Photo by Sophie Wyckoff.

Bigourdan initially faced many challenges as a solo entrepreneur. He states how stressful his job was and how “you do everything on your own and can only count on yourself.”

Why Aren’t You Fat?

Story and photo by Sophie Wyckoff

I sit at the wooden table with a mother and her two children, whom I luckily get to call my family for the next four weeks. We’re sharing our first meal together. My host mother, Isabel, breaks the silence and blurts out in her broken English how shocked she was when we first met that I wasn’t “fat and didn’t eat a lot.” 

Since then, my host family and I have often compared portion sizes, meal choices and grocery shopping differences between the United States and France. I find myself confirming Isabel’s stereotypes as I describe how much fast food our country has. Isabel shares that on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a market with fresh produce and butchered meat is located less than a half mile from her home.

On Wednesday morning, I stuff my purse with euros and start my journey to the Arles market. I hear the voices of the Arlesian people doing their weekly shopping as the smell of freshly baked croissants hits my nose. I have experienced farmers’ markets in my hometown in America filled with homemade items, but nothing compared to the abundance of fruits, vegetables and baked goods available at this market.

As I walk down the street surrounded by produce, my mind begins to wander to life at home. Instead of freshly grown ingredients, the aisles at Target, Hy-vee and Walmart are loaded with prepackaged food, saturated fat and high-fructose corn syrup. If we had as easy access to farm-fresh ingredients as we do fast food, America would not have earned the image of poor health it has today. These next couple weeks, I will relish the locally grown food until I am back to the reality of America: processed food. 

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.