Belgian beers are revered the world over, as much for their deliciousness as for their consistency. With centuries of brewing tradition, it is rare to find a relative newcomer that not only brews amazing beer but also has a great legend to back it up. Founded in 1982, Brasserie d’Achouffe produces one of the best-selling Belgian exports: La Chouffe, along with several other superb beers. More impressive is their ambassador: the ever-present gnome in the red hat, found on every bottle and in almost every worthy beer bar in the world. Founders Christian Bauweraerts and Pierre Gobron credit the quality of their beers, not to human competence, but to the recipe of a certain goblin: A. Chouffe, the lone survivor of a colony known as the Dwarves of Achouffe.
It should be known that the tiny brewery and restaurant, now a subsidiary of Duvel, is nestled in the quaint village of Achouffe, in the Wallonie section of the Belgian Ardennes. Chouffe does translate to gnome in the Walloon dialect. The skeptics among us would immediately assume that the name of the brewery and the beer comes strictly from the name of the village. While that might be true, the region is reputed to have been the home of a hillside colony of goblins that once brewed enough beer to keep the entire nation of Belgium drunk year ‘round. The beer flowed directly out of a spring in the woods of Cedrogne, near the secret meeting place of the Knights Templar prior to the crusades. This area is still known today as the Valley of the Fairies was, as legend would have, once the highest point in Belgium. From this point, the beer would flow downhill to the entire country.
Eventually, the area was devastated by the great plague and many villages in the region disappeared entirely. A collapse occurred and the Dwarves of Achouffe were buried alive. The great goblin brewery ceased producing beer and the residents of Belgium were forced to brew their own. The beer spring of Cedrogne now produces only water — the very water used to brew La Chouffe!
In 1978, the lone surviving gnome visited brothers-in-law Bauweraerts and Gobron and imparted the recipe for the classic golden La Chouffe. Gobron, the brewmaster, quit his day job in 1982 and set up the tiny brewery. In tribute to A. Chouffe, they vowed to include his image on every bottle of the beer they sell. To this day, tours of the brewery include a tribute to the gnome. Gobron, who has since left Duvel to found Lupulus, has been known to devote entire speaking engagements to lore of the gnome. True? Who is to say. But the beer is inhumanly delicious.
…Which brings us to the beer. La Chouffe (Ratebeer 98) is a fruity and mildly spicy explosion of flavor: sweet citrus notes linger with the coriander, hints of banana and vanilla. It is a surprising 8% ABV, given how smooth it drinks. This is an excellent example of what a Belgian golden should taste like.
La Chouffe’s sister beer is McChouffe (Ratebeer 97), a malty smooth Belgian Scotch ale, with notes of brown sugar, raisin, and maple syrup. This beer finishes remarkably dry considering nose and beginning flavor. This is probably a credit to the Belgian yeast, hints of which appear here and there as you drink. Another 8% marvel, be careful — you rarely want just one of these classic brews.
Houblon Chouffe (Ratebeer 99) is the big, hoppy cousin of La Chouffe — full of big fruity flavors underscored by waves of Tomahawk, Amarillo, and Saaz hops. While certainly not the hoppiest Belgian, it may be the most balanced. This beer also has a dry, easy finish, belying its 9% ABV. Officially a Belgian Tripel, this classic is the yardstick in the Belgian IPA category.
Every winter, Achouffe rolls out a fresh version of N’Ice Chouffe (Ratebeer 99), a 10% Belgian strong in the classic holiday style. Notes of cloves and cinnamon interact with the figgy base, with ester-banana swirls throughout. These beers age extremely well, and the limited nature of the beer (and the date-marked bottles) make these great choices for cellaring. Chouffe also produces a Bock and several liqueurs, which are not distributed in the US. It is a great success story for a small brewery to produce this many instant classics and achieve such great success in a relatively short period of time. Maybe every brewer should bump into a gnome, eh?
Kraig Torres is the Chief Hophead at Hop City Craft Beer and Wine, Atlanta’s only craft beer specialist. Hop City carries over 1,500 different beers, 1,000 wines and home brewing supplies. Hop City is located at 1000 Marietta St in the Brickworks complex – at the corner of Marietta St and Howell Mill Rd, next to 5 Seasons Brewery. 404-350-9998 www.HopCityBeer.com Hop City Craft Beer and Wine is proud to be Citysearch’s Best Wine Store in Atlanta for 2009.