Lifting the cold curtain over the (ardent) City of Beer

I was Number One. Understand here that I bought the very first entry ticket for the sixth edition of the Liège Province Micro Brewery Festival.  Half an hour before the official opening on Friday 12th April at 4pm, to see, as if backstage, the artists getting ready.

Popularity is now growing for local and artisanal products. Consequence: more and more small producers spend their weekends or are represented at stands in fairs, shows and other festivals that flourish all around.  Especially with regard to local beers.  Here are some pictures taken shortly before the action, in the inside courtyard of the Walloon Life Museum.  By one April day so freezing that instead of the exhibitors I would have been quite stressed…

It is the northern wind that flaps the flag of the brewery De Dochter van de Korenaar.  Where does this name come from?  From a quote attributed to Charles-Quint: “I prefer the juice from the daughter of the ear to the blood of a bunch of grapes”.  And the brewery comes from the Baerle-Duc (Baarle-Hertog), a Belgian commune enclaved in Dutch territory.  Monique and Ronald Mengerik founded it there in 2007.  Their beers have finesse and always a little unpredictable twist. And every one of them have French names: Beau Monde, Belle Fleur, Bravoure…

Ronald Mengerik went to help the Dutchmen of the Brouwerij De Leckere.  The one that is today the biggest brewery of Utrecht was founded in 1997 with used material by a group of friends convinced by organic products.  Still today, their whole range is “organic”, borrowed from the English word.  The town of Utrecht crowned them “taste heroes”.  Since 2007, they have been brewing the Paulus, after the middle-aged recipe from the Paulus Abbey that was trusted to them by the Utrecht Archives.

Straight out of Villers-devant-Orval, they are strategically placed on an angle in the cloister of the ancient Minors’ Convent.  But these happy Gaume guys’ beer is not the famous trappist from their region.  In 2010 four friends, one of whom was a lab rat in the Orval Abbey Brewery, created a blonde just bitter enough, not too much, to please their palates and their wives.  They baptised it with the name of their village’s saint patrons name.  Since then, their brewery Gengoulf became a sure thing in the brewing landscape of Belgian Luxembourg and well beyond.

Under their balaclava, Bejamin and Jozef, one Brit and one Belgian, come from the Valais where they created their microbrewery in 2016.  The Brewery of Mont-Noble, perched on the rocky promontory of Nax.  I ask them whether it is as cold today in Liege as it is in their Swiss mountains. “Way colder Ma’am” is their synchronised response!  Their highlight product is called the Trogne (the trowel).  It has the particularity of being brewed with rye cultivated in the Valais.  They also brew a Sombre Trogne (dark trowel) which is a beer with… Liege sirup!

This is where we enter the Province of Liège.  Through the south side and following the Lienne.  It is actually the legend of the Lienne Fairy and the Golden Goat that inspired the name and label of the microbrewery founded by Mélissa Résimont and her brother Nicolas in 2013. Initially, she is the scientist and he is the artist, the designer.  And if their beers, frequently rewarded, are fabulous (yummy, the Noire! – The Black), it is not due to the beneficial intervention from imaginary creatures.  It is the result of their rigorous work as creative master brewers.  Their representatives here are very proud of it.

The Lienne throws itself in the Amblève that leads to the Elfique (elvish) brewery.  Another legends story? Figures, for the country sung by Marcellin la Garde.* It is the story of a caterer who left everything in order to travel the vast world of beers, studied zythology, “and then turned around, full of use and reason” to brewing, in 2005, on his parent’s old farm. Since then, André Grolet built a beautiful brewery at the bottom of the Belle Roche (Beautiful Rock) of the legend and his Triple Brune (triple brown) was rewarded in the vast world.  It might have managed to touch the Elf who brings happiness and success…

*Marcellin la Garde is a romantic author of the 19th century, born in Aywaille who wrote about legends of the regional valleys.  The “full use and reason” is a reference to the poem “happy is he who, like Ulysses, has made a beautiful voyage or like he who has conquered the fleece and then returned, full use and reason, to live among his parents the rest of his age…” from Joachim du Bellay (16th Century)   

Brewed to share. Perfect to chat around.  The true farm blonde beer 100% organic, local, crafted and brewed in Lantin, Liege.  In the Liege Wallonia, the badjawe is someone who is witty.  The Liege Brewery Cooperative founded in 2015 regroups some 250 co-operators.  The raw material used, barley and wheat, is organically grown on the Tree Farm. Hop is also planted there, which should be fully grown already this year.  It is one of the rare breweries that can actually display the golden logo of 100% Belgian Hop.  

The sun that tries to shine through the lead-coloured sky throws down a projector type ray of light on the Marsinne Brewery novelty – Leopold 7: two canned beers.  Made with grapes, if you please, with the complicity of the Winery of the Clos Bois Marie of Huy!  Undoubtably Nicolas Declercq and Tanguy van der Eecken, the creators of the famous Leopold 7 in 2012, communicate their latest instructions by phone to their team.  They need to clearly explain how the Golden Boy and the Lazy Sunday match the sustainability concept of the brewery established in a lovely Hesbay farm.

Just a little cold will not give us the blues when we come to the Belgium’s highest brewery.  We know, even in the height of winter at the Belgium Peak Beer, the affluence around Signal of Botrange. It is here that the commercial Pierre Steffens seems to ponder over the fact that they could have nailed it by foreseeing on their spring stand their hot Peak of the “r” months.  Blueberry Peak, triple dry, cinnamon, orange or cloves. Talking about the Blonde, you may go to the article in Feel n’Cross n°1; for the Brown and the Triple, check out Instagram posts under #epicuralia

Will the sun last, will it not? The young girl representing the Cosse Brewery seems a bit dubious.  But, as shown on a video posted later on their Facebook page, even at night the atmosphere is warm in the Ardent City.  Justifying at the same time the name of the main beer from this 1892 family brewery, which disappeared in the 30s and was (re) founded in 2009 in Grâce-Hollogne.  The Beautiful Ardent was joined by the Or des Anges (Gold of Angels), a strong blonde that matures in whiskey barrels that come straight from the Raeren Radermacher Distillery.

How can one not look confident when one represents one of the brewing florets of the Liege province? Val-Dieu, in the Land of Herve, is part of the 22 recognised breweries of Belgian abbey beers. From its creation around about 1216 to its dislocation around the French Revolution, beer has been brewed within the walls of the Abbey.  The brand Val-Dieu was first relaunched in 1984 by a local brewery.  Since June 1997, the beer is once again brewed intra-muros, in the old abbey farm.  Blonde, Brown, Triple, Christmas Beer… all have a scent of divinity…

The Sainte Nitouche (T/N: an expression to design someone exasperatedly virtuous) of Beyne-Heusay might be shy being exposed in front of the sparkling posters of the museum exhibition.  And Vincent Lacroix is probably intimidated at the idea of sharing stardom with Leonardo Da Vinci.  The Saint-Esprit (Holy-Spirit) is an alcohol distilled from the Triple Sainte-Nitouche, in the beautiful alembic that is the family brewery created on 29th April 2014.  It gifted itself for the brewery’s 5th anniversary.

Right next to them, the Curtius dropped its luggage.  But Renaud and François take all their time to get there because they are playing at home.  Their brewery {C} is two steps away, at the bottom of the vertiginous stairs of the Bueren Mountain.

The pretty Botteresse illustrated by the comic author François Walthéry must impose itself against omnipresent tags behind her. But a savvy lady recognises it immediately! The Botteresses were emblematic personas of the Liege life.  In their baskets, they used to deliver countryside products. It is also said that they carried soil to elevate the Butte du Lion of Waterloo.  The Sur-les-Bois Botteresse has other victories to count, including the Best Belgian Beer of Wallonia in 2016 for its triple! Founded in 1997 by José Poncin and Georges Schrouff, the brewery also exports.

The Black, the Yellow and the Red. In a time when it is good to announce the evaporation of Belgium, the brand new Liege brewery (2018) jauntily plasters the three colours.  Admittedly, internationally, Walloon beer is a concept as inexistent as Flemish chocolate. And vice versa.  The Belgian brewery is established in Coronmeuse, previously known as the Liege brewing pond.  The origin of its beer names, Belgicus, goes way back to Charles Quint. It was created by three passionate men including a pharmacist by training and master brewer by trade. And already, it is doing well in the region.

The big news of the brewery Brasse & Vous (brew & you), brewed in Rocourt, is not its well appreciated presence in the Liege City of Beer.  It is this production unity of ten thousand hectolitres per annum that will be located in the heart of the Grand Post of Liege! This huge neo-gothic building at the edge of the Meuse is currently undergoing a notable reallocation programme to which the financial arm of the Liege Province, Meusinvest, is participating. The Legia of Bruno Bonacchelli and his partners booked itself a special place where tasters may have a direct view on the production.

*This little flash-back on the event, that traditionally presents just over a dozen micro-breweries of the Liege Province and a few outside guest breweries, wants to be non-exhaustive.  (a borane brewery, for instance, was not yet there at the time the pictures were taken).  But the main idea is to witness the spree that animates the Liege brewing landscape.

From the glass to the plate there is only one step.

Text and photographs: Germaine Fanchamps

Translation: Andrea Johnson-Ferguson