The Big Blond stages a comeback

Champigneulles. The queen of beers was pretty, slender and sassy. In the 1970s, she could have been taken for Mireille Darc, stepping nimbly out of a Citroen DS Pallas. For the people of Lorraine, though, she was the “Big Blond” from Champigneulles. An emblematic beer that disappeared from the shelves but not from the brewer’s recipe book. “Nowadays, we are France’s second largest brewery within an independent German group that had faith in our production facilities and has ensured jobs into the future. The challenge launched six years ago has been met. In fact, we’ve done more, relaunching the ‘’Blond’’ (lager) and marketing a new abbey beer. We’re very happy and very proud!” explained Patrice Colin, the brewery’s manager.

Frankfurter-sur-Oder. In the historic cellar of the Champigneulles brewery, a select group of major clients and specialists from the brewing world have joined historians and former executives watched over by St. Arnold, the patron saint of brewers, who keeps an affectionate eye on the revival driven by TCB, part of the Frankfurter group that owns three breweries in Europe, in Frankfurter-sur-Oder, Dresden and Champigneulles. Mike Gaertner and Karsten Uhlmann, the group’s two directors, tend not to court publicity but, despite this, they travelled to Champigneulles: “There’s obvious expertise here, and a history. Seeing the revival of two beers is a reflection of our commitment. It was unimaginable six years ago!”. In 2006, when Kronenbourg decided to sell off Champigneulles, it hit people very hard. The total liquidation of Lorraine’s only industrial brewery seemed very likely, with the sale of the brand for a mere fistful of Euros. “We produced 600,000 hectolitres in 2006, with 80 employees. Now there are 190 employees producing 2.65 million hectolitres, mainly low-alcohol beers for supermarket chains and distributor brands, but we also market beers under our own name”, continued Patrice Colin.

Arnaud Garlet, who is responsible for key accounts and marketing, joined the group a year ago and is enthusiastic about the two sides of the economic model. “It’s a big bang, a revolution. On the one hand, you have relatively cheap beers with 4.5° alcohol; on the other, you have a more sophisticated sector. Ale is a premium beer; abbey beer is made by top fermentation using sweet spring malts with no bitterness and producing a light amber colour”. To market its two new beers, the brewery in Champigneulles has three outlets - Clair de Lorraine, which specialises in local produce from Meuse, Les Saveurs du Colombier near Toul and Rega, both of which cover the café, hotel and restaurant sectors. The beers are also sold in leading supermarket chains, with attractive packaging that echoes Champigneulles’ graphic charter, three eaglets under a shield topped by a crown.

The two new beers are only produced in small quantities. “It’s all relative, of course, because the production level is 1,000 hectolitres. However, it’s wonderful to see industrialists bringing back two special beers with a strong regional accent. It’s pulling production up towards products with greater prestige and that’s essential for our brand image!” explained Benoît Taveneaux, Chairman of the Musée français de la brasserie (French brewing museum) in Saint-Nicolas-de-Port. In fact, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether the historian who, in one of his works, spoke of “Champigneulles the European”, had a feeling about the Franco-German return of the “Big Blond” before anybody else had considered it.

Pascal SALCIARINI

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