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Touring Hainaut : Belgium's Beeriest Province
By Chuck Cook

BRASSERIE VAPEUR lives up to its name with a steamy mash. Photo by Chuck Cook.

Hainaut, one of the five provinces in French-speaking Wallonia, could rightly be described as one of the heartlands of brewing in Belgium. Here, 21 breweries — the most of any Belgian province (with two more scheduled to open soon) — produce some of the country’s finest beers.

I have written in recent CBN issues about the Chimay Trappist abbey as well as the newly renamed De Rocs brewery. However, there is much more in Hainaut to see — and drink. At Brasserie Blaugies, near the French border, there is a “new” tasting room/restaurant (built in 2000) to showcase the beers of the brewery across the street and cooking with local cuisine. Called Les Fourquets (“The Mashing Fork”), the place is very nicely done both outside and in, with two floors, a large banquet/meeting hall and even a nonsmoking room. It is open from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

The good news for people who enjoy the beers of Blaugies is that they intend to increase production this year, as the owner is retiring from his day job. The family plans to brew about 1,000 hl in 2005, a sizable increase from the 400 hl of 2004. La Moneuse is by far their most popular brew.

Not far away, in Petit Dour, a fine beer list with 65 choices is offered at Taverne-Brasserie La Saline (open Thursday through Tuesday from 11:00 a.m. on). The owner of the cafe is a beer lover who likes promoting local brews. The cafe/restaurant also offers “Payelles” as a regional specialty, which is a sort of casserole with cheese, meats, potatoes, mushrooms and other ingredients. Delicious!

In Pipaix one finds Brasserie Dubuisson, producer of many well-known strong brews. The classic is Bush Amber (12% abv), called Scaldis here in the U.S. thanks to a certain very large brewing corporation. Dubuisson now offers a Blonde brew of 10.5%, as well as the unfiltered, spiced 7% abv Cuvee de Trolls and the 12% Noel (Christmas) beer. The 13% abv Bush Prestige, aged in oak barrels, has been a big hit. The beer is basically a Bush Amber, refermented and barrel-aged.

"Friendly people might ask you where you come from and how you like the Dupont brews."

There is a new tasting room/restaurant located on-site with the brewery, called Taverne Trolls and Bush. The Taverne offers all the Dubuisson beers as well as those of the Brasse-Temps brewpubs located in Mons and Louvain-la-Neuve, which Dubuisson owns. The Taverne Trolls and Bush is open every day except Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The Taverne features very good local cuisine, including dishes cooked with beer, as well as lighter fare. Eat here.

Just a few kilometers away in Leuze is Brasserie Vapeur, one of the few remaining steam-powered breweries in the world. Brewing began here as early as 1785. Jean-Louis Dits and his wife Vinciane Corbisier are the owners now, and they are perfect hosts. They hold an open brewing day the last Saturday of each month, an event where people visit from within Belgium and from much farther afield. Visitors see the steam engine in action and sample beers like Saison de Pipaix and Vapeur en Folie on draft or in bottles. A feast is offered for lunch, where for 20 euros you can have your fill of beer and food. There is a small shop where all the bottled beers the brewery produces are for sale along with other items. Jean-Louis has plans to construct a distillery and tasting room at the brewery when time permits.

Brewing at St-Feuillien/Friart. Photo by Chuck Cook.

Another few kilometers away in the small town of Tourpes is the world-renowned Brasserie Dupont. I visited twice in 2004, and my guide on both occasions was the very hospitable director and brewmaster, Olivier Dedeycker. Using brew-kettles dating to 1844 and a mash tun constructed before 1890, Olivier told me Dupont has been doing very well of late, as they produced 10,000 hl in 2004, up from 8,000 in 2003. New for 2004, their great Christmas beer, Avec les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont, was dry-hopped for the first time in more than 20 years. It is also offered in magnum-size bottles in some markets for the first time.

While the brewery’s official tasting room is only accessible after a brewery tour, there are two fine “locals” cafes close by where most of Dupont’s beers can be sampled. Friendly people might even ask you where you come from and how you like the Dupont brews. Café les Caves, just across the street from the brewery, is well worth a stop, as is Café la Forge, where I had a fine lunch of local meats and cheeses in December.

Brasserie Ellezelloise, located in Ellezelles at the northwestern edge of Hainaut, produces several classic brews, including Hercule Stout, a rich, dark, malty brew of 8.4%, and the fine Quintine Amber and Saisis. The small brewery and tasting room are located inside the same building and are open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and from 9:00 a.m. to noon and 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sundays. Brewer/owner Philippe Gerard is a very welcoming host.

A fairly new brewery, located in a small medieval castle near Ath, is Brasserie Geants. The brewer and his wife are also the owners and have built a very professional installation. Shelton Brothers is now importing their beers into the U.S. The castle/brewery is open to the public on weekends from June through September. Production was at 1,400 hl in 2003. These are very good beers with no spices added.

At BRASSERIE FRIART, large bottles of St. Feuillien are labeled by hand. Photo by Chuck Cook.

Just off the highway from Mons to Brussels lies Brasserie Friart, producing the St. Feuillien line of beers. Using a mash tun from about 1910, Brewmaster Alexis Briol cranks out some great beers, such as an Easter brew, Triple and Noel. About 6,000 hl of beer is produced here, while some of the bottled beers are brewed elsewhere. The brewery hand-bottles on-site only in 1.5- to 9-liter sizes. There is a tasting room here where the beers can be sampled after a tour, along with some very good cheese.

Brasserie Barbiot, located in Ville-Sur-Haine (not far from Brasserie Friart and Mons), was granted a brewing license in December 2004, and an official opening was planned for May 1. The first brews offered are a Blonde and Amber, at 7% and 9% abv. More brews are planned, and a tasting room is being built at the front of the building housing the brewery.

Brouwerij de Ranke, producing such beers as the hoppy XX Bitter and delicious Kriek, is planning to open a new brewery in June, which will have a small tasting room. Group tours will be offered on request. Located in Dottignies, just over the border from West and East Flanders, the new De Ranke brewery takes advantage of Walloon government incentives offered to new businesses. The beers have been brewed at DECA Services in the past.

The medieval city of Mons is a good place to use as a base while touring this province. There are a couple of solid cafe choices here, located on the beautiful Grand Place. Taverne de Cervoise boasts a beer list numbering 150+ and offers filling dishes like pastas, steaks and even vegetarian cuisine. Cervoise is run by young Walloon beer lovers and has a typically younger clientele than the more upscale Exelsior, just a few doors down. Excelsior is a fairly posh restaurant with a good beer list of over 100. Fish, steak and pork are good menu choices.

There is much more to see and do in Hainaut Province, and 2005 is the “Year of Beer in Brussels and Wallonia” (beer2005.be), so what a great time to visit this brewery-filled area!

Chuck Cook is a freelance writer living in Richmond, Va. His passions are beer and travel, and he has written for various beer publications. He can be reached via e-mail at chuck@beerandtravel.com.


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