Hop Gnome

When you reflect on Belgian beers, certain thoughts spring to mind: Images of solemn, ancient monks in quaint, stone built monasteries flicker around in your imagination. You’d like to think they’re chanting sacred songs as they brew their strong, rich Trappist beers.

We all know the types of breweries: Chimay, Orval, La Trappe, Westvleteren. There’s a reverence to their beers – with history that in some cases dates back to the late 1500’s. You’re even recommended to pour them into ‘chalices’ or ‘goblets’ to allow for optimum drinking and worshipping.

Unfortunately, it’s time to Men-In-Black those images from your mind.

Instead, we’re catching the beer-DeLorean straight to 1982, and ‘Doc’ Brown best prepare his drinking shoes.

That’s right; today we meet Houblon Chouffe, a charming brew produced by the Brasserie d’Achouffe – a 33-year old relative spring chicken in the Belgian brewing world.

Nestled in the Belgian Ardennes – a mountainous region near the French and Luxembourg border – the brewery is the love-child of brothers-in-law Pierre Gobron and Christian Bauweraerts.

With less than €5000 to their name, the pair initially began their business as an extended hobby, but since their first batch of beer was produced on August 27 1982, thankfully the partners-in-glorious-beer-crime haven’t looked back since.

Their mascot is a charming gnome in a red hat that can be found on every bottle.

Why a gnome you ask?

Well, in the Walloon dialect, ‘Chouffe’ translates to ‘gnome’, and with the pair hailing from the village of Achouffe, one might say it was an obvious choice.

One might also say that people need to stop being so goddamn grown up and heartily embrace a fairytale every now and then.

As legend has it, a colony of gnomes once brewed enough beer in the region to keep Belgium drunk year-round, with the beer flowing freely from a spring in the woods of Cedrogne. The glorious tsunami of dubbels, trippels, quadrupels, blondes, brunes, lambics, and saisions delighted all. Unfortunately, catastrophe struck, villages collapsed, and the gnomes were wiped out. The spring reverted back to spitting out mere water and the surviving villagers were *shock horror* forced to brew their own beer.

Miraculously, a single gnome remained and escaped to whisper the recipe into the ears of two gentlemen.

From it came La Chouffe, the first beer produced on that fateful day back in 1982.

Cranking our vehicle up to 1.21 gigawatts and 88 miles-an-hour, we now arrive in 2006. For the hipsters among us, this is a sad year. Duvel-Moortgat brought the Brasserie d’Achouffe as part of their expanding portfolio. For the hipsters among us, it’s also a tremendously happy year.

For it is when the Houblon Chouffe was first brewed, the unique mash-up of an English IPA, American Imperial IPA and a Belgian Tripel.

Combining a large dose of Amarillo, Saaz and Tomahawk hops – for the trivia-minded, the ‘Houblon’ part of the beer name refers to the French word for hops – the bottle-fermented brew is genuinely spectacular.

It pours a foggy light orangey-blond with a thick white head. A splendidly flowery nose leads to the triple-treat of a big malty body, citrusy, estery hoppy characters, and a distinctly dry finish that ensure the overall package slides down remarkably. Packing a hefty alcoholic punch – weighing in at a casual 9% – it’s an amazingly well balanced beer considering the flavour profiles of the styles it combines, and is a fantastic sipper .

It’s also probably a sharer, considering that a solo helping of the generous 750ml bottle will most likely cause you to see the gnome from the bottle dancing around your backyard.

For the snobs high-class among us, you can allegedly best enjoy the beer with foie gras, veal fillet, raw chicory, soused herrings, pink grapefruit, honey, or a blue cheese such as Rossini or the Pouligni St-Pierre.

Or if you like, at 12.15am on New Year’s Day with leftover snags, chicken wings, and following a couple of games of beer pong.

Either way, I promise you will enjoy it.

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