RULLES - The Gaume region is situated between the forests of the Ardennes and the French region of Lorraine. But here, around Orval and Virton in the far south-eastern corner of Belgium, the sun is doing overtime, by Belgian standards at any rate.
Grégory Verhelst, brewer at Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles, swapped Doornik (Tournai) for the Gaume village of Rulles. He is our guide for today.
Rulles specialises in unfiltered artisan beers that re-ferment in the bottle. And Grégory is one of those rare brewers who swears by open fermentation.
You notice this as soon as you enter the yeast room and smell all the different aromas. “Don’t lean over the yeast basin,” Grégory commands. Nothing must get in the way of fermentation! I can barely spot him behind a sea full of yellow and white waves, on the other side of the basin.
Why choose open fermentation? “I was sold on the idea straight away when I did an apprenticeship with the De Koninck brewery in Antwerp,” Grégory tell us.
“At that time they were just switching over to cylindro-conical fermentation tanks which involved a comparison of the aromas produced by open and closed tanks. It was clear to me straight away."
"The aromas from open fermentation are far more intense and are perfectly suited to the type of beer that I want to brew: beers with plenty of taste.”
At Rulles you will find a blond and a dark beer, a triple, a saison, an amber beer, a Christmas beer, a summer beer plus a recently introduced unfiltered pils.
Rulles is also open to the odd experiment or two. How about a zesty beer brewed with wild hops from the brewery’s own field?
And what else determines the taste of the Rulles beers? Grégory: “We use water with a low mineral salt content. Also, our main yeast comes from Orval .
Most local brewers get their yeast from them. Finally, we purchase very aromatic American hops.”
We knock on the door of Jean Le Chocolatier in the nearby village of Habay-la-Neuve. Everything in this store has been made by hand on the premises, by a French chocolatier who sought and found his inspiration in Belgian beers.
Jean explains: “An entirely new world opened up to me. I discovered the Rulles amber beers, the brown beers made by Sainte-Hélène in Ethe and the gueuze produced by Cantillon in Brussels."
"I actively look for the chocolate that provides the best pairing with these beers. Beer and chocolate, is there anything more Belgian?”
The chocolatier hands me an almond praline with a hint of coarse salt and uncorks a bottle of JeanChris, brewed by Rulles.
“We developed and perfected this praline in collaboration with my supplier, beer trader Christophe Gillard of Mi-Orge Mi-Houblon in Aarlen .”
You can smell the citrus and taste its bitterness, followed by a hint of sweetness and a biscuity taste coming from the roast malt.
Then comes the fiery praline with a filling made with Espelette peppers. The fire is put out with a mouthful of the beer. Jean likes a robust taste. His cocoa is procured from Sao Tomé, Peru and Indonesia.
He works with single origin chocolate, salted butter, saffron, pimento chilli peppers… “I don’t add any sugar,” he says, “you have to be able to taste the original flavours.”
Our next stop is a restaurant, Les Plats Canailles de la Bleue Maison, in Habay-la-Neuve. It has an idyllic lakeside location in the midst of a green oasis overlooked by a castle.
The service is spot-on, attentive without being intrusive, and the Rulles Blonde is poured with all the honneurs it is due. It is paired with the “blood sausage with ‘forgotten’ winter vegetables”.
Another quarter-of-an-hour’s drive and we find ourselves at Tock Butcher’s in Sainte-Marie-sur-Semois, known for its artisan ham, sausage and the pâté gaumais baked in a crust.
“A good sausage has to be given time to mature – ferment, in other words – and to dry out,” the butcher tells us. He points out the difference between a sausage from the Ardennes and from the Gaume: “Ardennes sausages are drier."
"In the Gaume the meat matures for a shorter period.” The dark Rulles Brune provides excellent companionship for these rich local products.
We finish our taste safari in a café: Le Point B’Arts in Fratin where the Rulles Pils is flowing from the taps.
We will leave the sheep's milk cheese of La Bergerie d’Acremont in Bertrix for our next trip when we will also visit award-winning restaurant La Grappe d’Or in Torgny. Rulles opens many doors.
Brasserie De Rulles
Rue Maurice Grévisse 36