Spend a Saturday at Brootcoorens Brewery in Erquelinnes and come and find out for yourself what makes this unusual and fun destination so special: a place that brings lovers of craft and local beers together.
“Lots of people come here to learn the art of brewing. Recently, a Spanish man and his wife visited us every Saturday for 6 months to learn how a brewery works. They are hoping to open their own brewery in Spain,” says Alain Brootcoorens, the man behind the Brootcoorens Brewery project. “For me, it’s also important to get a feel for the product as it brews, observe the process and have the full experience of what really goes on in a brewery.”
Alain Brootcoorens has a particular fondness for products that use local small-scale and non-standard production methods, including those made from brewing. In 2000, he got together around fifteen friends to produce a beer that they named Angélus.
The beer’s name derives from the church standing just a few hundred metres away from the brewery: it has a namesake prayer, which the church bells ring out daily.
A 100% natural beer
Under the group name “Jurande de l’Angélus” (the Angelus Confraternity), the pals brew this delicious beer in a way that they enjoy drinking themselves. “I call it a natural beer because it is made of just 4 basic elements: barley malt, hops, yeast and water,” he explains. “The water isn’t processed, there is no added sugar. The flavour comes entirely from the brewing process.”
The beer is only made on Saturdays by the volunteer friends. Depending on how many orders are coming in, brewing takes place every two to three weeks.
The result is around 100 to 200 hectolitres of beer being brewed, bottled and labelled on site each year.
Learning the art of brewing
The brewery is open to the general public and visitors are invited to come and help out. Many people interested in finding out how beer is made come here to learn the art of brewing with Alain.
Don’t be fooled by the cheery, relaxed atmosphere; the beer is monitored rigorously throughout the process. “Beer production requires you to keep a regular check on the temperature stages and degree of alcohol. It takes around 10 to 12 hours to brew approximately 800 litres. You can’t afford to make mistakes. You really have to get a feel of how the product is changing throughout the process.”
The commercial aspect of this brewery comes second to the brewing process itself. Beer sales help to make improvements in the brewery and organise events. “We make beer as a way of coming together and having fun. We set things up so that, if for whatever reason we decide we want to stop making it, we could do so overnight, without any debts, and owing nothing to anyone.
The finished product essentially goes to local clients who source it from the brewery shop or one of the select number of places that sell it.
The first educational hop field
In 2003, the ‘Jurande de l’Angélus’ planted the first educational hop field in Wallonia. “A century ago, every village would have its own brewery with a hop field. Hops have always grown here. We see them growing wild around the edges of fields, as relics of our brewing past. With our educational hop field, our aim is to reconnect with the past and showcase this crop which requires a particular growing technique.”
The hop field has over 300 hop plants which grow up to 8 metres tall. They grow from February to September. The field also grows the “Buvrinnes hop”, renowned as being one of the best Belgian hops and sought after by numerous brewers: their location in the hop field is a closely guarded secret.
Many varieties of fruit trees, sometimes rare ones, have also been planted: vigorous apple trees, mulberry plane trees, quince trees, medlars… Aromatic plants have just been added to the existing stock; they are being used to create new beer recipes.
For several years, the brewery has invited neighbouring schools from one side of the border or the other to come and discover the educational garden. During the harvest, the pupils help to pick flowers by hand.
An excuse to get together
The brewery and hop field are first and foremost an excuse for getting together. “We don’t take things too seriously. What we are mainly looking to do is to spend good times with interesting people. We realise we might seem somewhat surreal! But we’ve been here for 20 years and are still going strong,” he says, with a grin.
This brewery also allows people to brew their own beer. With guidance from the master brewer, enthusiasts make their own mash. They select the recipe, the bottle and the label.
The site also hosts several events such as the ‘hops festival’, or the ‘Beau Vélo de Ravel’. “A few years ago, we welcomed over 6,000 cyclists.”
This unique brewery attracts amateurs and enthusiasts for hops alike, from Belgium and further afield.
Brasserie Brootcoorens or Erquelinnes Brewery
Rue de Maubeuge, 197
Tél. +32 479 88 78 35