The Beginning – Just opposite this ancient brewery, in the flat farmland of Hainaut, there is a small castle, coloured snowy-white. It's where Dubuisson's story began, where Joseph Leroy first started brewing for the Count of Ghissegnies. When, in 1769, the Empress Maria Theresia withdrew tax exemptions that had been previously granted, the Count’s brewing adventure came to an end.
Not Joseph Leroy's, however. This ancestor (through the female line) to current owner, Hugues Dubuisson, simply crossed the road and started up his own farm brewery. Eight generations on, and its brewing craft is still alive, and still being passed from father to son.
It's a traditional craft that's been open to influence, though. In 1933 Hugues’ grandfather, Alfred Dubuisson, created a Belgian amber beer that pulled from the English traditions of pale-ale, scotch and stout. The resulting beer proved a hit, with much success inside and outside Belgium – under different names.
Bush was the name given to the beer, which is actually the English word for 'dubuisson', and it's long been the brewery's prime brew. But the Bush range of beers were renamed Scaldis in the USA, to avoid confusion with another large competitor.
Alfred Dubuisson thought up the following wry slogan to promote his new brews: “The life expectation of a water drinker is 57 years and for a Bush drinker it is 97 years. Up to you!” Following his own motto, Alfred passed away in 1993, at the grand old age of 97.
Dubuisson once brewed mainly table-beers and saison, but their focus switched increasingly to the Bush speciality beers, especially on recent decades. And so its historic brands, such as Provision, Saison, Triple Blonde de Ghyssegnies, Cock-Ale, Vieille Bière and Surfine, have all sadly fallen by the wayside.
Some classics may be gone, but Dubuisson never jumped on the bandwagon for trends like white beers, fruit beers or abbey beers. And large volumes of pils-style beers weren't of any particular interest, either.
What was of interest was pushing the boundaries of the Bush range. In 1991 the Bush family welcomed a new member: the Bush de Noël (12.0% ABV) Christmas beer. A Bush ‘light’ followed in 1994 (the Bush 7, at 7.0% ABV) but it was discontinued, as it didn't prove particularly popular. However, Bush Triple (10.5% ABV), a blonde introduced in 1997, was right on target. The year 2000 saw a drastic increase of activity at the brewery.
The Cuvée des Trolls (7.0% ABV), aimed at a younger public, was launched in this year. Another winner was the Bush Prestige (13.0% ABV), launched in 2003, which is Bush matured in new oak barrels (usually made for Burgundy wine). Along with its flurry of new beers, Dubuisson made changes to its brewing facilities at this time.
It opened its Brasse-Temps microbrewery in Louvain-la-Neuve, followed, three years on, by a launch in Mons (Bergen). Also, the old brewing hall in Pipaix was completely refurbished, to allow the brewer to respond to growing demand, both within Belgium and abroad. And to top it all off, the brewery established its own hops in an adjacent field.
Dubuisson, the oldest brewery in Wallonia, is now brewing around 45,000 hl per year. 35 per cent of its output goes abroad: mainly to France, Switzerland, Italy, the USA and Hungary. The Dubuisson story shows no sign of slowing down either as their new brewing hall has increased its capacity to 100,000 hl a year.
The Bush beers rank among the heaviest (in alcohol terms) in Belgium, at around 12% ABV. The brewer speaks of them as ‘degustation beers with character.’ Reaching those highs requires the taking of some special measures in the brewing.
A quarter of the wort is allowed to evaporate, so as to increase its density, while sugar is added at the end of the boiling process. The beer will re-ferment in large bottles, so it can develop more intense aromas and a rounder taste. Such heavy beers are very much 'keepers', and can be stored without any problems for two or three years, or even longer.
But what exactly is the Dubuisson ‘signature’? What gives these beers their character? In the first instance, it has to be the house yeast, which is propagated using the original strain. This is a very particular variety of yeast. It is still active at an alcohol content of 12 degrees, which is quite unusual for a beer yeast.
In addition, the yeast provides plenty of fruity aromas, as well as the impressions of nuts and caramel. Much of the rest of the character comes from the malt. The Bush beers use three varieties of malt, including a caramel malt which contributes to the colour. Beyond that, each of the Bush varieties has its own story.
The first chapter, of course, began with the Bush Ambrée (12.0% ABV), which was introduced in 1933. Bush Prestige (2003) is none other than Bush Ambrée matured in oak barrels.
This is how the wood tannins seep into the beer, providing aromas familiar from oak-matured sherry, whisky or brandy.
The Bush de Nuits (13.0% ABV) of 2007 is another special, and is in fact Bush de Noël (launched in 1991) ripened in used-burgundy barrels. Legend has it that the brewer purchased a barrel filled with Nuits-Saint-Georges (the Bourgogne red), sought the assistance of his friends to drain it, and then filled it up with Christmas beer.
The Bush de Nuits is a complex beer, not dissimilar to wine, but complementing it with touches of red fruits. Since 2008, Bush has also been available as a tripel.
The brewery's owner, Hugues Dubuisson, is a man who knows his stuff. As well as years of experience, and many generations of passed-down brewing wisdom, he has a brewing degree under his belt. Every single recipe is personally developed by him, paying all due respect owed (naturally enough) to the Bush ‘institution’, as one of the oldest beer brands in Belgium.
It was his passion for nature, and for flora in particular, that, he says, led him to study agricultural engineering, with a particular focus on brewing technology. Beer has always held a fascination for Hugues.
He wanted to get to the bottom of each enjoyable glass, and find out how natural ingredients played a role in creating it. Hugues had his first practical experience of brewing at De Koninck in Antwerp, where he was employed as a production assistant.
However, Hugues is an engineer through-and-through. When he took up his job at the family brewery, he immediately started investing in the lab. He feels that if you want to achieve consistent quality, you need to have state-of-the-art facilities for analysing your product. That's how you can single out the one particular ingredient that's not quite up to scratch, for example. Quality is paramount at Dubuisson.
When Hugues joined the brewery, he found that the hops were unpleasantly bitter, which prompted him to instigate rigourous quality control.
At the end of the day, though, he reckons that brewing is really the art of managing balance. And more than anything, he is proud of his traditional family brewery.
As a member of the Association of Belgian Family Brewers, Hugues is a stout defender of the quality reputation of Belgian beer – brewed locally, by family businesses, across the generations.
- Bush Ambrée
- Bush Ambrée Triple
- Bush Blonde
- Bush Blonde Triple
- Bush de Charmes
- Bush de Noël
- Bush de Noël Premium
- Bush de Nuits
- Bush Prestige
- Cuvée des Trolls
- Cuvée des Trolls Triple
- Pêche Mel’ Bush
This is a brewery very much geared to its visitors, welcoming individuals and groups alike. Much of the tour focuses on the brand new brewing hall, but a real highlight is the visit to the cellar. This is where you'll see the Bush de Nuits maturing in its wooden burgundy barrels.
A visit here is pleasantly rounded off with a tasting in the Troll & Bush brewery pub. This used to be the brewery cafe, and was a traditional stop-over for those who travelled from Charleroi and Bergen (Mons) to the North Sea coast.
Dubuisson doesn't only brew in the village of Pipaix, however. Somewhat surprisingly, you'll find the Imagix cinema complex in Bergen plays host Dubuisson's Le Brasse-Temps microbrewery. On this most unusual of spots, five different beers are brewed – all of which are 100% natural and artisanally-crafted. The beers produced here, freshly poured, can only be enjoyed at this single location.
In common with the Troll & Bush, the menu here is varied and regional, and the prices are modest. And, of course, all of Dubuisson's extensive range is also available at Le Brasse-Temps
Just outside the walls of the main brewery you'll find there are plenty of other experiences to be had. First and foremost, there's the alluring scent of the field of hops, that the brewery started cultivating recently.
But step a little further, and the pleasures become architectural. In Leuze, there's the collegiate Church of St. Peter, which was constructed in the style of Louis XV, the penultimate monarch of the House of Bourbon. It is well-admired for its striking oak-panelling, its 15th-century eagle-bedecked lectern, as well as its organ and treasury.
History is also gathered in the local museums. The ‘Museum van de 18 dagen’ (or Museum of Eighteen Days) is a war museum covering the start of WWII in Belgium.
The Gallo-Roman museum in Blicquy, by contrast, jumps back a couple of millenia to classical times, depicting daily Roman life. Here you'll find clay ovens, funeral pyres, a statue of the war god Mars, pottery and jewellery. Mahymobiles, in Leuze, is a pilgrimage destination for lovers of a different sort of 'classics' – old-time automobiles. Here, around one hundred vehicles are on show, all restored to their original condition.
Some 14km from the brewery you'll find the flat farmland gives way to one of the oldest cities in Belgium. Doornik’s (or Tournai’s) impressive cathedral, with its four splendid square towers, is a Unesco World Heritage Site. This cathedral was constructed in the Middle Ages (13th and 14th-century). Step inside and you'll be gifted with the work of artists such as Jordaens, Rubens and Metsys. There's a particularly brilliant rose-shaped leaded glass window, showing the city as it then was, which simply has to be seen.
Doornik also proudly claims the to have the oldest Belfort Tower in Belgium, which is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. If you climb to the top of this tower, you'll be greeted with spectacular views over the city.
Another eye-catching monument is the unique Pont des Trous, of ‘Bridge of Holes’ – the final witness of the city's medieval city walls. The water gate across the river Scheldt is part of the former outer city wall, and has protected Doornik from attacks many-a-time.
The city also plays host to seven museums, including the Museum of Visual Arts, designed by Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta. Here, you can admire the 'oeuvre' of important Belgian painters such as Rogier van der Weyden, Breughel, Rubens and Jordaens.
The other museums are a surprisingly varied lot, housing collections of tapestries, puppets, folklore and much more. Doornik is a great city to explore on foot, with all the main attractions within walking distance. Visit the local tourist office to find out about the walks around town, which vary considerably in the distances covered.
The wider area offers plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Scattered across the Henegouwen region you will find Beloeil Castle, with its gardens, Attre Castle, and the ruins of Aulne on the banks of the Sambre in Gozée. There's also the small town of Binche, known for its carnival that now forms part of Unesco World Heritage award, and the hospital museum of Notre-Dame de la Rose in Lessines.
Here you can discover how medicine was practised in medieval times, in the authentic surroundings of a convent-hospital which dates back to the Middle Ages.
The city of Bergen (Mons) is also well worth a detour to see. Its Belfort, towering over its park and the city, is yet another Unesco World Heritage Site. Other buildings that will catch your eye include the eclectic Town Hall at the Grote Markt, the Church of Sint-Walburgis and the BAM contemporary art museum.
Not far from the city there are two impressive former mining sites, which well worth a visit. Enjoy contemporary art and thematic expositions at Le Grand Hornu, now host to the MAC (Musée des Arts Contemporains), with surroundings that exude industrial archaeology from every pore. At Frameries, an interactive science museum has found its home in a discontinued mine.
Getting There & Around
You will find Pipaix at just an hour’s drive from Brussels (80 km), using the E411 from Charleroi, or the E429 from the direction of Rijsel (Lille) and Doornik (Tournai). The brewery is located 14km away from Doornik, and some 37km from Bergen (Mons). If you're coming by public transport, from Doornik, take bus 95 to reach your destination.
Gastronomy, Food & More Beer
Beer chef Hilaire Spreuwers feels that it is predominantly the yeast that determines the taste of the Dubuisson beers, producing a particular taste that's clearly recognisable. So it's no surprise that these beers, with their pronounced character and high alcohol content, are true and proper degustation beers.
They're made to enjoy as an aperitif, complement as a digestive, or relish at other times of the day– especially when paired with a wedge of carefully chosen cheese. Which cheese, though? Well someone familiar with the ways of a cheese affineur, like Hilaire Spreuweers, knows what to do.
He will first update his tasting notes for every cheese, and seek out the best possible pairing. He will take the drink as a starting point before drawing the net around possible candidates. He will browse his taste memory: rose petals, bitter roast coffee, rosemary…. tasting, and naming the different aromas, refining his choice to a select few cheeses.
These will then be tasted as a pairing with the brew, usually together with a colleague. It's definitely a matter of trial and error, especially at first; this is a profession you have to grow into. It's reckoned that it takes one year before you are able to make a selection, and some three years before you can take an independent decision as to the optimum maturation of the cheese.
If you can't decide, and want to present a cheese board, matters are even more complicated. The cheese affineur recommends having a piece of bread between tastings to cleanse the mouth. Ordinary bread is best for this; so don’t use bread containing nuts or olives, for example. Hard work, but worth the effort - enjoy!
And finally (and fittingly) it's worth noting that the Dubuisson brewery has its own cheese, produced by the Dupont brewery-dairy, which is found in the same region.
Tourism information for Leuze:
Tourist information for Doornik (Tournai):
Tourist information for Henegouwen (Hainaut):
Rue des Clercs 31
Tel.: +32 (0) 65 36 04 64
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