A hushed atmosphere, “fish and chips,” and taps gushing liters of English beer: The Famous Knight is a wholly typical pub, except that it is situated in the French village of Couptrain and the beer is brewed nearby, in the south of Normandy.
In a country where people are more likely to sip wine or mass-produced blonde beers, The Famous Knight and its brewery are seducing more and more French taste buds.
“I have always been passionate about beer,” says Steve Skews, 62, co-owner of the pub and brewery with his wife, Jane. With a beard, a tousled mop of hair and a robust appearance, Skews has been living in Normandy since the beginning of the 1990's. But it wasn't until later years that he started brewing beer in his stone farmhouse hidden in the green glens of the Normandy countryside.
“At the beginning, we made cider, but almost all our trees lost their fruit in the storms of 1999,” Skews explains. “We had to think fast and, with my brother – who is also mad keen on beer – we saw that a brewery was about to close in England. Since we already had the buildings, we had their equipment shipped over and we installed it here.”
Twelve years later, "The Brewery" is expanding, and Skews has created a series of beers ranging from the very bitter to light, wheat styles ideal for summer.
The majority have been baptized with a nod to William the Conqueror, a native of the region, who became King of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. One is simply called “Conquérant” (triumphant); another – a limited edition – is named after the defeated English king: “Harold’s Revenge.”
“It’s something with which people can identify,” Skews says. “It’s a super subject of conversation between the people from here and the English, and it’s very funny.”
The Brewery, which is located in the village of Joué-du-Bois, has its own field of hops – the plant that gives its flavor to beer. Brewed according to traditional British methods, and without additives, the beers are attracting the locals.
“The expression on the faces of the French when they taste the bitterness of British beer for the first time is fairly troubling,” Skews says. “But we have succeeded in converting some people. Many of them are surprised that a beer can really have flavor.”
At The Famous Knight, the clients don’t contradict him. “Since I’ve been coming here, I no longer drink any French beer,” Daniel, a regular, admits. Yvan, another customer, explains: “I really like beer and I really like the beer from here because it’s made here.”
Skews’ beer is beginning to breach the borders of Normandy. “We are selling in Paris, we are selling in the south of France, we are selling a little in Brittany,” he says.
There is only one cloud above The Brewery: Skews is intending to retire, but he still hasn’t found someone to take over the business. “My daughters aren’t interested, so I don’t know what will happen,” he sighs.
“If someone young, a young brewer somewhere, would like to change their life and buy a brewery, I would be very happy to speak with him. I would love for the brewery to continue to exist.”