RONGY - A sense of terroir permeates the village of Rongy, nestling amongst the wheat fields and fruit orchards that spread as far as the eye can see. Brasserie de Brunehaut has taken up the torch of a former, traditional village brewery.
It stays ‘close to the source’ and, wherever possible, works with ingredients from the local area. And the Brunehaut range of beers is organic and gluten-free.
Soon their St Martin abbey beers will be produced in an organic way too. “The first recognised abbey beers to carry a ‘bio label’, or an organic label”, brewery owner Marc-Antoine De Mees tells us.
You cannot have green beers without a green company, which is why this brewer is putting his money into environmentally friendly technology.
Think of solar panels, heat recovery as part of the brewing process and energy-saving LED lighting.
This is more than a marketing gimmick. Marc-Antoine has no time for ‘greenwashing’. What he does have time for is dealing with the environment in a responsible way. “We are not making things easy for ourselves,” he laughs.
“If you brew in an organic way, you have to use organically grown ingredients. There are not so many of these on the market and this puts limits on our creativity."
"Also, the ingredients are more expensive to purchase and finally, we have to follow strict procedures."
"The entire organic, or ‘bio’ chain, is kept entirely separate from the traditional chain."
“The ‘organic’ label is awarded by organisations that inspect food quality. They carry out inspections several times a year, sometimes with prior notice, sometimes without."
"They will take samples and test them for traces of nitrates, pesticides, chemicals and other substances. They also go through our accounts with a fine-tooth comb.”
In the less densely populated south of our country, the farms are often surrounded by large tracts of land. The origin of many breweries lies on these farms. Often you will find evidence of former agricultural activity around them, or architecture that is typical of a farmhouse.
Younger brewers want a shorter production chain. For example, they may collect their barley from a nearby farmer or even grow it themselves.
Brunehaut owns the Ferme de Graux, a traditional farmhouse with 120 hectares of land, 12 kilometres from the brewery.
The farmhouse has undergone extensive renovations: the stables converted into a venue for parties and receptions. However, this is only part of the story.
“We are offering young people the opportunity to start up their own agricultural business,” Marc-Antoine tells us.
“Before long we will be self-sufficient and the proceeds of the farm will feed 300 families.”
Our walk ends up at a small field of barley. The owners have sown 18th-century English varieties, never touched by pesticides. “We carefully select a strong organic barley that suits our way of brewing,”
Marc-Antoine explains. “Brewing with barley from your own lands, what could be better than that?”
Goats from the French Poitou region provide milk for the cheese; bees provide the honey and pollinate the fruit; the vegetable garden yields a great crop of tomatoes, salad vegetables, beans and carrots.
A small herd of Black Angus cattle are peacefully grazing in the green meadows surrounding the farm.
These magnificent animals are kept outside all the year around and are, unsurprisingly, fed only with 100% natural cattle feed.
We make our way to Doornik (Tournai). Marc-Antoine shows me the splendid 12th-century Romanesque crypt from the former St Martin’s abbey that is located in the basement of the city hall.
However, our expedition to the world-famous cathedral with its five spires does not bear fruit.
We had wanted to admire the original of the image that adorns the Brunehaut beer glasses, a stained glass window showing St Martin.
Unfortunately the interior of the church is being restored and is not open to the public. Oh well, onwards and upwards.
Summer has arrived in the market square. The weather makes the locals thirsty and their ‘quality control’ is more exuberant than ever.
At the terrace of Le Beffroi the Brunehaut beer is going down very well.
We end our quest in Café La Cloute in Rumes on the French border. Here lovers of vintage cars get together from time to time. We travel back in time to the 1960s. A Jimi Hendrix song bursts out from the wallpaper. Marc-Antoine says: “I’ll stand a round. A Brunehaut Blonde on tap, everyone?”
Brasserie de Brunehaut
Rue des Panneries 17
Facebook: Brunehaut Brewery / Domaine de Graux