Several years ago while shopping at Whole Foods, I caught a glimpse of a gnome perched atop a beer tap at the grocery store’s bar. Ever since that day, I’ve been obsessed with Brasserie D’Achouffe, a gnome-themed brewery in the countryside of Belgium.
Through my gnome writings, I’ve even gotten to know the brewery’s founder, Chris Bauweraerts via email! Well one of my gnome travel bucket-list dreams recently came true when I booked a trip to Belgium to visit Chris and these tiny gnome brewers.
My gnome-supportive husband and I rented a car in Brussels, and drove two hours to reach the brewery in the rolling hills of the Belgian Ardennes. Belgians drive on the right side of the road, not the wrong/left side like they do in the UK, so it was pretty easy to get around.
But first, we stopped in Liege, a small Belgian town on the way. A quick TripAdvisor search told me that the top thing to do in Liege was climb the Coteaux de la Citadelle, which involves 374 stairs that lead to an awesome view of the town.
The town of Liege has an upper level and a lower level, so we wandered the streets of both, which were connected by peaceful wooded trails. Although I only had a couple hours to spend here, I’d say it was definitely a worthwhile pit stop.
And what’s a pit stop without some sustenance?! Here’s me skeptically eating a delightful (?) lunch of canned corn and peanut butter while watching some drama go down with the local police.
But without further delay, onward we traveled to Achouffe! The brewery location is beautiful with cutesy homes, a small lake, and gnome figures scattered all around on the walls and signs.
Helpful gnomes pointed us in the right direction as we explore the grounds before our scheduled tour.
Reminiscent of that day back in Chicago when I “gnomed myself” at Chouffe Fest Chicago, the brewery had a perfectly-situated and oversized chair to hop into and feel as tiny as the gnome brewers themselves.
Standard brewery tours are in Dutch; however, our gracious guide, Lydia, took the time to translate everything in English just for us.
We got to see the Achouffe beer-making equipment, brewing vats, and even a short film about the brewery’s history. Not surprisingly, I was captivated and enthralled during every single moment.
Then Lydia led us to the tasting room to sample all the Chouffe specialties: the traditional blonde (La Chouffe), decadent brown(Mc Chouffe), hoppy IPA (Houblon Chouffe), and fruity summer beer (Chouffe Soleil). I must reveal that I’m a bit of a craft beer connoisseur, and even if gnomes weren’t on each label, these would still be some of my all-time favorites!
Although the staff gave us complementary glasses and postcards, I quickly found myself stocking up on gnome gear at the souvenir shop. I’m now the proud owner of a long-sleeved Chouffe bike shirt, wall plaque, key chain, and zip drive!
But the highlight of my brewery visit was meeting and spending time with the owner and founder, Chris. I could not have asked for a more welcoming and hospitable host!
Chris published a book, called My Chouffe Story, which details how the brewery began in 1982 and how the gnomes became such an important part of the brewing process. He gave me a signed copy of his book as a gift, a memento I will always treasure.
Chris went out of his way to make us fall in love with the Belgian countryside, taking us to some of his favorite places in the area. We followed Chris, (in his orange shirt and orange car…a fellow fan of everything orange, like me!) to a nearby bed, breakfast & brewery, La Vieille Forge, which is known as the tiniest brewery in Belgium.
By the way, the concept of a BB&B is amazing and there should be more of these…EVERYWHERE.
I got to meet the mastermind behind Brewery Inter-Pol and sample his two original beers, which were delicious. I really just wanted to stay at this tiny country pub for a while with the super-friendly locals and crash overnight at the B&B, but alas, all the rooms were booked for a biking event in the area. Maybe next time.
After reluctantly leaving the tiny brew pub, Chris took a traditional kebob & fries restaurant, Friterie Au Chat l’Heureux, to fill up our stomachs after all that awesome beer.
There were a few too many choices for my overloaded brain at this point in the brew-fueled day, but was finally able to decide on an order. Whew.
Fries are a big deal in Belgium, and although I tend to avoid the greasy specimens back in the States, I felt obliged to give ‘em try on this side of the pond. I can’t deny that they were a tremendously satisfying post-beer snack. Good thing I’d been averaging 10 miles of walking per day!
Chris knows the ins and outs of everything in the Belgian Ardennes…even the history behind an old cemetery that we stopped to check out along the road.
In caravan-style, we spent our afternoon following him to a few of his other favorite places in the area, including a WWII site, scenic nature sites with yellow wildflowers, the production & bottling facility, and a local pub.
*A version of this story is published in the current edition of the “International Gnome Club Newsletter.” Drop a line to President Liz Spera at firstname.lastname@example.org to become a member of our club and keep up with gnome enthusiasts like me!