The last visit of the forth day of the Belgian study tour was to Achouffe brewery.
I was getting a bit jaded by this point, and let's face it the copper cathedral at Rochefort would be a hard act for any brewery to follow.
Achouffe stared with 49 litres being brewing in a kitchen in 1982. They're currently making 150,000hl a year so haven't done badly. Their gnome logo comes from a pun in the local dialect: 'la chouffe' means 'the gnome' and the brewery in in Achouffe. I didn't notice any gnomes wandering around whilst I was there. Perhaps the gnomes are invisible?
They use a lot of herbs and spices in their beers: coriander in La Chouffe, thyme and curaçao in their Winter beer. The hoppy beer Houblon, designed for the US market uses Saaz, Amarillo and Tomahawk hops. They export 70% of their production, most going to Holland. They brew 15 - 20 times a week, 100hl at a time, two tons of malt per brew. All the beers are brewed to sales strength as they don't have sterile oxygen free water to cut the strength back with.
All their beers are bottle conditioned, the bottling being carried out at a bottling plant 6km away. Achouffe was bought by Duvel Moortgat in 2006 and the bottling plant is a major investment for the group, not just Achouffe.
Though bottling lines are impressive feats of engineering they're not my favourite part of a brewery trip. That would be the drinking, I mean seeing the brewhouse. There was a treat at this one though as they opened up the tunnel pasteuriser so we could see inside whilst it was running.
I did a lot of work on the diabolical side of brewing last year so it was nice to be able to see the devil's work as it happens.