In this, the first-ever guest post on the blog, Bordeaux-based translator and authority on all things beer-related, Chris Tighe, casts ...

La Grande Brasserie de l'Atlantique : a Bordeaux beer institution

In this, the first-ever guest post on the blog, Bordeaux-based translator and authority on all things beer-related, Chris Tighe, casts his well-informed eyes upon the history of La Grande Brasserie de l’Atlantique, a Bordeaux institution which was located on Quai de Brienne for many years. Over to you, Chris!

It was the turn of the 19th century when a gentleman from the Strasbourg-based Fischer family decided to open a Bordeaux branch of his Alsace brewery. His aim was to cut down on transportation costs to the Sud Ouest as well as to export to overseas French territories from this new outlet for Fischer beers. He chose a peaceful open spot by the river which had decent road, rail and boat access for supplying the city and beyond. So in February 1806 was born the Grande Brasserie de l'Atlantique which successfully operated from 1-6 Quai de Brienne for 173 years until its final closure in 1979; the site is currently occupied by the Point P and M.I.N. (Marché d'Intérêt National).

In its 1950s heyday the brewery turned over 208.5 million francs annually, had more than 280 employees, 40 delivery trucks, a pack of delivery horses with carts, could produce 30,000 bottles of beer an hour and deliver 300,000 bottles a day, and exported up to 40,000 hectolitres (10,000 tons of beer!) a year to French foreign outposts in West Africa and even as far as Madagascar, Reunion and French Guiana. They had a riverside beer garden with a restaurant and supplied a large number of bars and épiceries not only in Bordeaux but also Rochefort, Brive, Périgueux and Bayonne, as well as branching out into other sparkling drinks such as lemonade and mineral water.

View over the brewery as it was with the riverside railway and the scene today.
After its humble beginnings the brewery had grown steadily during the 19th century along with the popularity of Alsace beers throughout France. Records are difficult to track down but at some point they formed a partnership to become Fischer and Leppert. It was in 1901 that the production and marketing really started to take off. The brewery, one of 2,728 operating in France at the time, was renamed L'Atlantique.

The Archives Municipales have recently remastered a copy of the Livre d'Or from the Exposition Maritime de Bordeaux in 1907, including a strong entry on the Brasserie. It is stated that the brewery uses the 'latest technology and machinery to produce Munich-style Pilsen beers'. The brewery is 'good for commerce as beers brewed in Germany don't travel well' and they add that nevertheless it may seem 'strange to see beer being brewed in the heart of wine country'. The brasserie was obviously exporting by then as they advertised having a 'special procedure' to help beers travel well. This refers to the brewing of Bières de Garde with the beer being brewed in winter to create a higher percentage cleaner product. In 1907 they were listed as having 60 workers, 11 delivery drivers, 7 bookkeepers and had the highest production in the region at 25,000HL per year.

The next decent records available are from March 1923 when the brewery published a photo book, which contains a number of fantastic photos from the 1920s and gives a snapshot of the everyday running of the business.

Scenes from the 1920s: generator hall with a giant grain hopper and fridge condensors for making ice; hangars, barrels and brewing tanks; horse-drawn delivery cart; and team photo!

After a visit to the Gasconha brewery in Pessac, I was put in touch with Mr Maxime Peyranne who worked at and later ran la Brasserie de l'Atlantique from 1947 to 1979. Despite him being 90 years old I phoned him up to get hold of some more info.

Maxime Peyranne flanked by Vincent
and Nathanaël, employees
of the modern-day Gasconha
brewery in Pessac.
The interview with Mr Peyranne gave a great insight into the later history of the brewery. He started in 1947 when they began producing their Spalthaller range. The hops were sourced in Spalt, Germany to give a more authentic flavour. 150 kilometres east of the Alsace border, hops from Spalt were apparently a much better quality than those from north-eastern France. He mentioned that the brewery was running during WW2 and continued to supply bars and restaurants during the occupation although export was probably disrupted! La Meuse brewery took over in 1951 and told Mr Peyranne in a meeting in Paris that they 'no longer wanted to make beer in the Spalthaller (Bavarian) way and wanted a more uniform product'. However I found a reference to 140,000 HL of Spalthaller being produced that year. La Meuse had 25 breweries in France in 1951 although the smallest were all closing.

Contemporary campaign promoting
beer for breast-feeding women.
Another interesting beer they produced was Cynthia - alcoholic and designed specifically for pregnant and breastfeeding women with brown sugar and syrup added to make it sweeter! Bottle manufacture was at Veyre in Libourne. As production manager, Peyranne had 230 workers in summer as 'people only drank beer when it was hot'. The restaurant/bar sold Alsace specialities such as Sauerkraut and Strasbourg sausages as well as the full range of beers. 1976 saw the move of bottling to Blanquefort and in 1979 they closed for good. Incidentally they still had horses in the late 1970s to deliver to central Bordeaux.

The Garonne-side restaurant and beer garden, and the modern-day view!
There is a large amount of merchandise available online from posters to beer mats, ash trays, bottles, bottle tops, posters, calendars, etc. Numerous side industries were in existence over the years, for example a number of the posters were created by and printed by Paris companies. I found a poster of Neptune with an Atlantique beer from 1929 credited to Pierre Donvez who created a wide variety of advertising from that era. There were also printing houses in Agen and elsewhere who looked after beer mat and label production.


The search for information about the Brasserie de l'Atlantique has proved to be somewhat of a treasure hunt. I was expecting to go to the library and find a book on the complete history of the place but unfortunately the majority of records seem to have disappeared in an alcoholic haze. Nevertheless the evidence out there gives a valuable insight into local popular history and Bordeaux drinking culture which the new artisan breweries are trying to recreate.

Cheers, hic...

4 comments:

  1. Very interesting for me ! My father has directed This brewery from 1946 to 1968 and I Am born Inside It in 1953 !
    Thierry Laigle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Thierry, what an interesting connection!

      Delete
  2. Hi, thanks for this article! I am also interested in this brewery but it is not easy to have good informations... Do you know where do I get some informations about the beer produced?
    Massimo

    ReplyDelete
  3. i find bottle from this brouwerij BRASSERIES ATHANTIQUE BORDEAUX 50CL

    ReplyDelete