ACHOUFFE / WIBRIN - Chouffe fans, of whom there are many, will have marked the second weekend in August with an extra star in their diaries. That is when the tiny Ardennes village of Achouffe, the home base of the eponymous brewery, will provide an idyllic backdrop for the annual Grande Choufferie (Big Chouffe Party).
The gnomes are throwing a party to celebrate the 35th anniversary of their beer, and in Achouffe they know how to brew up a good party.
It was in 1982 that a gnome whispered the recipe into the ear of a brewer, but that is an entirely different story….
In keeping with gnome tradition, this birthday bash started on a small scale in 1985. The celebrations included a parade featuring the 'Chouffe brass band', and were finished off with a slap-up meal.
Thirty years on, La Grande Choufferie has grown into a major event in its own right. Regular visitors make sure their accommodation is reserved.
They check out of their hotel and book in for the next year as they leave. There are no rooms to spare in any hotel in the area when this event is on. The Grande Choufferie is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a freshly poured La Chouffe, McChouffe, Houblon Chouffe or Chouffe Soleil, by itself or to accompany a tasty meal.
The beer tasting session is the cherry on the cake of this beer fest. Thousands of party-goers from every corner of the world make for a vibrant atmosphere.
‘Vive La Chouffe’ (The Happy Chouffe Song), resounds throughout the valley: ‘Vive La Chouffe, la bière de la Vallée des Fées, vive La Chouffe…’
The Dixieland Streetband first performed at the Grande Choufferie in 1992, and have become one of the main attractions of the festival. In Dutch they would be called a dweilorkest: a party band playing mainly brass and percussion instruments with the occasional banjo.
Whatever instruments they use, a party is never far behind; they have a great reputation throughout the Benelux countries.
Mister Cover will also be playing their hearts out. Musicians are always welcome at the Gnome fests.
The atmosphere can reach boiling point, as unbridled enthusiasm causes many a table to be toppled over late into the evening. Or should that be early in the morning?
There is one sport however, that requires mountains of concentration and patience.
Year after year, adventurous climbers make an attempt to break the world beer crate climbing record.
The current record stands at 28 crates, neatly placed on top of each other, at least to start with. Experienced climbers place their Chouffe orders in advance so they can enjoy it on top of their, now dangerously swaying, tower, emptying their glass while enjoying the views and the never-ending applause and cheers.
If the pile of crates collapses like a house of cards, the climber will sail through the air, safely attached by harness to a crane.
So this is how to get a bird’s eye view of Brasserie d’Achouffe.
Back on solid ground, the house caricaturist will churn out cartoons, and there is plenty of other entertainment to enjoy.
Not many people will remember that 30 years ago another beer flowed from the Achouffe tanks, paying little heed to the La Chouffe name. This experimental Belgian beer was extravagantly named Chouffeleir Quvae Anno MCMLXXXV.
A small germ of an idea fermented, took hold and was to spawn a beer festival around the themes of ‘beer, nature, gastronomy and music’. This beer with the long name has now become a collector’s item.
It won’t be long before the Happy Chouffe Song will once again echo around the valley. At this time of year though, in early summer, you can hear a pin drop in this green oasis. The pond provides a splendid mirror image of the brewery.
The terrace of the tavern is bathed in sunshine and provides the ideal spot to enjoy a Chouffe Soleil, a seasonal beer.
You can order a glass of this newcomer between April and October. In winter, the darker N’Ice Chouffe takes over.
Chouffe Soleil is a ray of sunshine in your glass. Its perfumed aroma reminds you of citrus, flowers, vanilla and peppery herbs.
A mild, quaffable beer, with just a touch of exotic fruits, set off by impressions of wood. It has a dry and zesty finish with remarkably citrusy touches.
I wonder whether to order a ‘Rabbit à La Chouffe’ or should I go for a portion of ‘Meatballs à La Chouffe’?
And for dessert, should I go for a Tiramichouffe or a Chouffe sabayon? Choices, choices. Two visitors from Brazil prepare for their brewery tour with sips from their glasses of Château d’Ychouffe dessert beer.
It springs to my mind that Chouffe Soleil is not as young as you might think: this summer beer first saw the light of day at the end of the 1990s.
It was born as the Chouffe Bière Du Soleil: a light beer (4.5% ABV) that, thanks to the higher than usual saturation of its ingredients (malted barley, wheat and rye) tastes just as full in the mouth as a stronger beer.
A modest alcohol percentage paired with a strong taste is a gold-winning combination. Fifteen years ago the market was not ready for this type of beer. Nowadays, it is all the rage. You turn your back and the past turns into the future once again.
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La Grande Choufferie (Big Chouffe Party) 2017 Dates: 11th – 13th August 2017.