Vince De Soyres has always done things a bit differently to those around him. Growing up near Paris with a German mum and French dad, his upbringing was heavily influenced by his mother’s homeland.
“I always felt like I didn’t have the same cultural beacons as my friends: different music, different movies and we always had beer at home," he says. "It’s always cool to have a point of difference.”
In a country famed for its wine and a culture of alcohol with food – even for children – at Vince’s house growing up, weekend lunches would instead be accompanied by a lager or hefeweizen. Although most of the beer he drank while he lived in France was from Alsace or up near the Belgian border, the time he spent in Germany resulted in a lifelong love of German beers. Whenever he would do the four-hour drive to Germany on holiday, he’d fill his car with cases of beer and even kegs to bring home.
Despite the geographical closeness of the two countries, the cultural differences were stark.
As Vince, co-owner and head brewer at Frenchies Bistro & Brewery in south Sydney’s Rosebery, explains: "I once took a keg of beer carry-on on an airplane. The German border official high-fived me on the way through but then when I tried to bring the empty keg back on the plane (to get 20 Euros back for returning it) in France they basically arrested me."
While studying brewing, Vince landed an internship at the Ninkasi Brewery in Lyon. Ninkasi was one of the first craft breweries to open in France in the late 90s, and although not a big brewery, they operated a 500 person bar and a 700 person concert hall which they had to keep supplied with beer. It was in this environment that Vince first learned how to brew both newer American and traditional Belgian and German style beers.
After finishing his bachelor's degree and internship, he had heard rumours of the growing craft beer scene in Australia and the thought of spending his gap year surfing and brewing in the sunshine was difficult to pass up.
And so, in January 2011, Vince landed in Sydney and immediately bought a surfboard and a van in which to live. The promise of a booming craft beer scene may have been a little premature back then, but undeterred Vince began driving up the east coast surfing and talking to every brewer he came across.
Luckily, he didn’t have to go far. Popping in to The Little Brewing Company at Port Macquarie (now Wicked Elf) would prove to be a life-changing event. Warwick and Kylie Little, the then owners, couldn’t take Vince on, but said they'd be happy to exchange beer for help on packaging days. For most people, having your only income be a couple of cartons of beer might sound like a nightmare, but for Vince it was idyllic.
“I was living in my van at Flynn’s Beach so there was no rent," he says. "I’d surf in the morning, help Warwick package all day, surf until it was dark, then swap my expensive beer for food from fellow backpackers, which there was a lot of in 2011. I could have lived like that forever!"
Forever only lasted two months, however. In a devastating blow (quite literally) while camping with friends, Vince managed to embed an axe into his foot while chopping wood. This meant months of not being able to work or, indeed, do much at all.
With just one month left before he was due to head back to France to begin a Masters course, his Australian dream seemed to be all but over. That was until Warwick called with an offer of a full-time job plus a visa sponsorship – and the rest, as they say, is history.
For the next three years, Warwick instilled in Vince an unrelenting dedication to quality over all else. Just over a decade later, and the legacy this brewing job left with him is clear to see.
“Warwick brews probably the best Belgian beers I’ve ever had in Australia," Vince says. "Belgian beers aren’t exactly popular in Port Macquarie, but he stuck with it because that’s what he loved. It’s probably the same reason why I keep my bières de garde on all the time. They’re not trendy but they’re such good beers I couldn’t bear to get rid of them."
Vince’s relative success in Australia convinced his friend and gastronomic chef, Thomas Cauquil (pictured above,also while at Flat Rock Brew Café), to abandon the doldrums of post-GFC Europe and try to seek fortune here too. With the Australian food and beer scene rapidly evolving, the pair were soon hatching plans for a place of their own.
As such, Vince said goodbye to Port Macquarie and headed back to Sydney in August 2014. While they researched how they could go about opening their own venue, both Vince and Thomas landed jobs at Sydney’s infamous Flat Rock Brew Café.
Flat Rock’s tiny 200L brewing kit meant Vince would have the space to thoroughly explore the beer landscape including English style cask ales, American IPAs and even a barrel program which had been set up by Wildflower Brewing & Blending’s Topher Boehm. Flat Rock’s success at the AIBAs and Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show proved to Vince that he had the chops to do it alone and the raging success of the degustation dinners he and Thomas put on showed that Sydney was ready for a French bistro and brewery.
Frenchies opened in The Cannery at Rosebery in 2017 and they've barely taken a backward step since. In five years, Vince has added a further eight tanks and licensed a large portion of the common area in The Cannery to create an almost German beer hall vibe. Frenchies' unique mix of traditional European style beers, on trend hazies, barrel-ageing program and fine French cuisine is fittingly different to what anyone else is doing.
So, ahead of Bastille Day and Frenchies' fifth birthday, we thought it would be fitting to catch up with Vince for our Brew & A series.
Vince de Soyres
Why are you a brewer?
I’ve got German heritage so I learned a lot – and developed a love of beer! – through my family. I went on to live in Germany, and when I got back home to France I found the beer wasn’t as good there as it was in Germany. This inspired me to become a brewer, and I went on to study it at Albert de Mun Hotel and Catering School in Paris.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
I’d be something like a ski bum living it up in the Alps!
What was your epiphany beer?
Franziskaner Hefe Weissbier.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
After I finished my studies I did an internship at Ninkasi Brewery in Lyon. I noticed the craft beer scene was really taking off in Australia, so I ended up moving over here and worked as a brewer at The Little Brewing Co in Port Macquarie in 2010, followed by the Flat Rock Brew Café in Naremburn.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
Our DDH Cryo NEIPA. We called it the Tropical Mist because it’s full of tropical aromas. It’s like a refreshing mist that stimulates your senses, and makes you feel like you’re somewhere exotic like the Daintree Rainforest. You know what… we’ll make it again!
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Hops, because you can get creative with them in many ways, and they are an essential building block of every good beer.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Once, and it ended up down the drain. I was creating a golden Bière de Garde with a new yeast, but it didn’t quite go as expected!
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery(s) in the world, which would it be and why?
Budějovický Budvar in the Czech Republic. Their beers are all really well made, and their pilsners are probably my favourite.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
There isn’t one in particular as there are so many great indie breweries now, and loads of new ones popping up all the time. I keep an eye out on all of them and it’s really good to see how creative and open we all are to pushing the boundaries to develop such a varied range of tasty brews.
What inspires you outside the world of brewing beer?
My wife Lorien, because she lives life to the absolute full. Whether it’s kitesurfing, canyoning or camping, she knows how to get out there and embrace all that mother nature has to offer us.
This reminds me of who I really am and what I really like to do, and I bring this mantra into my brewing.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
Our new core range beer, the Hazy XPA. It’s refreshing and tropical, so would go perfectly with my tropical island oasis.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
The soundtrack from Ghost Dog.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
Wine – from Burgundy ideally, of course!
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
The amount of calories in beer. We’re always testing and sampling, so you end up drinking quite a bit of beer… It’s starting to catch up with me haha.
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Make sure you have a passion for beer – not just drinking it, but the science behind it! – some pretty good fitness levels, and a systematic approach. We had two new apprentices join our team in 2021 and 2022. They both have these traits and they have been a really good addition to our team. They are quickly growing into world class brewers!
You can taste Vince and Thomas' wares at The Cannery, 6 / 61-71 Mentmore Avenue, Rosebery, read more Brew & A features here, and find Frenchies alongside more than 1200 Aussie breweries and good beer venues in the free Crafty Pint app.