One of the most iconic of French wall-painted adverts is for Byrrh.
It was absolutely fascinating. The tour takes you round the old parts of the factory which are no longer in use, except for some of the large old casks which are rented out by the Tourist Office to companies such as Dubonnet.
The drink was originally created in 1873 by the Violet brothers who took advantage of the growth in wine production to set up shop in Thuir. They were drapers, but developed a tonic that contained quinine and tried to sell it as medicine. The pharmacists of Montpellier took a very dim view of these upstarts trying to get a foothold in their lucrative tonic business, and threatened them with lawsuits galore.
They decided it was a battle they couldn't win, so reduced the amount of quinine in the tonic and made it into an aperitif instead. What marks them out from the competition at the time is the way they developed the business until Byrrh was being sold all over the world. One of the ways they marketed the drink was to hold a competition to paint an advert for Byrrh in 1903. Over nineteen hundred artists took part! There was an exhibition of some of the designs, in that lovely Art Deco style of the time.
|One of the entries that didn't win. Love the louche sensuality.|
The almost highlight of the visit was seeing the largest oak cask in the world - 12 metres in diameter, 10 metres high, weighing 17 tonnes, and holding over a million litres. It was designed to better the previous record winner which was a German cask that only held 900K or so litres.
There was even a little railway station for deliveries designed and built by no less than Eiffel himself. I could just imagine the little trains rattling in carrying the precious spices used to give the drink its distinctive flavour (orange peel, cocoa beans, elderflower, coffee beans, camomile, etc.), and out again with cases of the finished product to be sent all over the world.
Unfortunately, the drink fell out of fashion after WWII, and in 1977, the company was bought by Cusenier, and later became part of groupe Pernod-Ricard.
I had never tried it before, but at the end of the visit was a tasting - the highlight - and I got my chance. We tried the original aperitif
as well as the less powerful version (17°)
Visiting the factory was definitely worth it. The tour was well done, with lively presentations, and an interesting guide; the story was worth telling, and the dégustation a delicious way to end. If you get the chance, do go along and take the tour.
*the title is a play on words from the advert for butter (as opposed to margarine) "Beurre ou ordinaire":