Photos by: Richard Landon
Paul Davies of AleHunters, and the UK ambassador for the Beer Idiot’s Belgium Beer Week, writes about a trip through Belgium’s Wallonia and visits to some of the region’s brewers and bars.
A Belgian brewer joked to me a number of years ago that if you drive in Belgium for an hour you will then be in another country. A bit harsh to be honest. Admittedly there are parts of the country that are pretty narrow but I recall making the trip from Eupen on the German border to Brouwerij Rodenbach. Just shy of three hours. And I was still in Belgium. I took a group on a tour of Southern Wallonie and after picking up a member of our gang from Ieper, we began the long trip south via a tour of Brouwerij Deca by Pol Meersman.
As usual Pol gave an excellent tour which for the first time in my experience included the open fermenters. We finished off with a beer tasting masterclass of Dikke Jan beers. Pol also let me know that he was barrel-ageing some of his Quadruple and a month later I returned to the brewery to pick some up for Christmas. This was the last time that I saw Pol as he suddenly passed away in February. I will miss his friendship and generosity. RIP Pol.
Once you get past Brussels the drive south is pretty straightforward with long, straight roads recently resurfaced and we managed to make up some time despite the rain. Our hotel was La Porte de France with a nice bar and restaurant and a substantial breakfast. After dinner and a few local beers at Roy de la Mule (King of Mussels no less) it was time to sample the local bars with the favourites being La Vieille Ardenne, Brasserie des Ramparts and L’Artistide with its aged collection of Orval.
Our first full day in Wallonie was a northwest trip from Bouillon. First stop was the Espace Chimay – getting in nice and early and avoiding any crowds. Time for some delicious trappist beer paired with their Chimay cheese. The oldest and most commercial Trappist brewery, the brewery at Abbaye de Scourmont was established in 1862. Their four cheeses have been in production since 1876 and include a rind-washed one with Chimay beer, a semi-hard pressed cheese, the Grand Cru and the Old Chimay which have been matured for six weeks and six months respectively.
Onward to Brasserie des Fagnes in Mariembourg, this tiny microbrewery was founded in 1998 and is very popular with families and coach parties. The brewery museum includes a micro kit that produces seasonal and special brews with the more popular brands being contract brewed at Brasserie du Bocq, just off the Meuse River in Purnode. Note: a trip along the river by bike, car or especially boat is highly recommended. And while you’re there visit the Musee des Bieres Belges in Lustin. The menu at des Fagnes is substantial with their specialty being the Croute des Fagnes, a tartiflette that kept me full until bedtime. A full range of their beers was on offer and being the driver I tried the table beer Cuvee Junior with aromas of caramel and cola. Sigh…
Heading a short distance north we drove towards Lac de l’Eau d’Eeure and arrived at Cerfontaine, home to Au Pere Sarrasin and Brasserie Silenrieux. Friday afternoon meant that we had the bar to ourselves. Founded in 1991 the brasserie is situated next to the cafe and Silenrieux specialises in less-known brewing grains such as buckwheat and spelt. The gang tucked into a range of blondes, ambers, brunes, tripels and the winter beer. This is a friendly cafe on the banks of one of the streams that connect the lakes. And next door to Golden Frites Barrage no less.
As we left Cerfontaine, the night began to draw in and we had to head south on a one hour drive. We were making our way deep into the forest about 10 minutes outside our base. Brasserie Rochehaut was founded in 1996 on the crest of the valley. Family-friendly it boasts a large restaurant featuring Belgian Black Angus grills, a brewery shop and full bar next to the brewery. For children there is a play park, wildlife park and agricultural museum. Locally sourced soft water gives the beers a delicate touch and the five core ranges are supplemented by regular specials. This is an impressive brewery destination with great beer, food and service. Recommended. A 10 minute pitch black drive saw us arrive back at Bouillon where we settled in to La Vieille Ardenne for the evening.
After a delicious breakfast it was time to head south. First stop was Brasserie Rulles in Habay, founded by Gregory Verhelst in 2000. We were shown around the brewery by Olivier Barthelemy as Gregory was busy with setting up his beer festival. Rulles produce some fantastic beers and are very proud of the open fermentation with their Orval-based yeast strain (Orval also carry out lab analysis of their beers, for free!). In addition to US hops the brewery is now embracing continental varieties from the nearby Alsace region. Rulles’ dry hopped IPAs come across with great balance and refreshing bitterness, not something that you usually find in most less elegant Belgian IPAs. Everyone enjoyed Olivier’s generous tasting and we bid him farewell for a couple of hours before catching up with him at the festival.
Time for lunch at the excellent A l’Ange Gardien opposite Abbaye d’Orval. I’ve been meaning to visit for many years and the experience certainly didn’t disappoint. Even the driver had to sample a Petit Orval which at 4.5% seems to have even more fruity notes than regular Orval. Possibly the smaller version of its bigger brother has a more generous dry hop addition. The food is excellent with the full range of Belgian classics alongside smaller snacks and cheeses. I couldn’t resist a carbonnade with Orval beer and it was enough to keep me full until bedtime. The abbey is stunning, originally founded in the 11th century it was burnt down in 1793. The Cistercians hired Henri Vaes to build a new Art Deco abbey in 1926 and the brewery was commissioned in 1931. Henri designed the beer bottle and glass too. The stunning valley setting is responsible for the abbey’s name – valley of gold.
Following lunch we headed to the main event, the 20th edition of Brassigaume. Named after the local region – the Gaume – the festival was founded and is organised by Gregory from Brasserie Rulles. It’s a lovely, small, inclusive festival featuring mostly local producers plus 7 other breweries from Italy, Luxembourg, Poland and the UK (Tiger Tops). This is a proper rustic beer festival where you can buy beer and basic food with no sight of a corporate sponsor or mega brewer anywhere. The breweries were Rulles, Ermitage, Millevertus, Deseveaux, Cooperative Liegeoise, La Semois, La Source, Atrium, Cazeau, Gembloux, La Lesse, Heritage, Minne, Experiment’Ale, La Croix, De Liege, Peak, Blaughies, Rochehaut, Gzub (Pol), Bare Brewing (Lux), Tiger Tops (UK) and No Tomorrow, 50 & 50, Sagrin and EMOD (Ita). One of the highlights was Philippe from Brasserie Minne shouting ‘Sanglier’ at full bore (no pun intended) every 15 minutes – with the festival crowd answering him with the same. It ws eventually time to head back to the hotel where some of the gang opted to go for dinner and I saw out the night with some cellar aged Orval at L’Artistide.
Sunday saw the gang head East for a special request made by the group to visit Brasserie Lupulus. Founders of Achouffe, Chris Bauweraerts and Pierre Gobron had opened a brewpub in 2004 in Courtil called Les 3 Fourquets. Pierre and his sons took ownership in 2008 and renamed it Lupulus, referring to the wolf and the hop. Highly hopped and elegant, Lupulus’ beers are highly rated and sought after. The brewery is modern and has the capacity to package beers for other local brewers. During the pandemic they took delivery of much of the beer that couldn’t be sold and distilled it into a special spirit. The taproom and shop is inviting and well worth a visit if you’re in this beautiful part of Wallonie.
Sticking with the theme we headed off to another beautiful nearby village and the home of the eponymously named Brasserie Achouffe. Since the take over by Duvel in 2006 the brand has expanded its reach worldwide. You can still visit the tasting cafe and shop, sit back and sup a Chouffe and admire the gorgeous view.
It was then time to head across the country past Brasserie Fantome, Comte Hener and Inter Pol and to stop at a couple of cafes along the way. Our final destination was the legendary Brasserie Caracole in Falmignoul near Dinant. Founded in 1990, this family-owned wood-fired brewhouse began life in the late 18th century. I last visited about 20 years ago and it hasn’t changed a bit. A lot of their beers contain spices with varying degrees of success. I plumped for a Nostradamus which was delicious. Soon it was time to leave and head back to Bouillon for our farewell dinner at the always excellent Hotel de France Auberge d’Alsace.
Finally it was time to leave Bouillon and Wallonie. After a quick supermarket visit it was back on to the highway for the three hour drive to our lunch stop. Lunch was at Koffehuis de Hofnar in Gullegem. Run by Gabi and Frank they offer delicious snacks, pastries, lunches and deliciousBelgian beer from small producers. Originally from Germany Gabi kindly gifted me a delicious Hopperbrau Helles from her hometown. This is a perfect place for breakfast or lunch and the beer range is superb. Note: bring cash as they only accept Belgian payment cards.
Last but never least was a visit to my dear friends at Brouwerij ‘t Verzet. Alex treated us to a great tour and ran through the brewing process before the highlight which is always the barrel room. He then took us through the range of beers – the regulars, oud bruin infusions and bootlegs. I never tire of visiting these guys and after enjoying tours from Koen, Leopold and Alex over the years its interesting to see how each member fo the team has their own focus and way of delivery.
Following a quick shop at Verzet it was time to make the one and a half hour drive to Calais and onward to London. Such a great trip with a lovely group of people who made it a special tour. I would urge you to visit Wallonie if you haven’t done so already. Its beauty is stunning and there are lovely beers to be found there.