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An adventurer in the Ardennes
The Clos Belle Rose overflows with authenticity
Discovery of a craft brewery in the Ardennes
5 mins OF ESCAPE
In the heart of the small, picturesque village of Haybes my friends and I discover the Clos Belle Rose. A gite, a craft brewery, and a meeting place.
History plays an important role at this site
A unique history
Unlike the neighbouring buildings, this structure instantly attracts the eye. And for good reason! The owner, Julien, tells us that the Clos is the only building to have survived the brutality of the Germans. During the first world war, the village was completely destroyed, only to be rebuilt later. The industrial city of Stockport in the United Kingdom guaranteed the sponsorship of the reconstruction of the village of Haybes, and one of Julien's beers is named after the English town. I quickly understand the importance of the history of this exceptional site. The activities of the Clos Belle Rose are deeply rooted in its memories and its respect for the environment.
A night by the Meuse
I discover the charming originality of the Clos. The building's interior is just as impressive as the outside. Amandine, Louise, Collette, Marguerite Fontaine. Each room is personalised with a feminine name and features a shower room. My room is called Anne and offers a stunning view over the River Meuse. Early in the morning, we meet for breakfast in a baroque-style dining room. Jam, chocolate, fruit, soft-boiled eggs... we can only indulge! Hot drinks are brought to our table. We feel just as if we're staying with friends. Maybe this is how Charles de Gaulle felt, and the singer, Jenifer, as well as the other celebrities who have come here. We can already see ourselves relaxing at the outside bar in summer, enjoying this view over the river.
Rooms, local products and a craft brewery, all at one unique site
Encounter with an Ardennes master brewer
With full stomachs, we go to meet Julien for a private guided tour of the Clos Belle Rose craft brewery. The hospitality and remarkable sense of humour of this Ardennes resident put as instantly at ease. His mother is an English lady from Liverpool, so he inevitably displays his love of football. In fact, the craft brewery sometimes goes on the road, to accompany the local team on match days. "Although I doubt they'll get better results because of it," he jokes.
The Clos Belle Rose also proposes a ewe's milk cheese and a beer terrine. Julien tells us that he refuses to sell his products to supermarkets because he attaches every importance to meeting his customers in person. Some of them come to learn to make beer and leave with their own brew. The craft brewery produces approximately 5,000 bottles per year and reaches the peak of its activity during the winter. "It's the low season for tourism, which leaves us more time for brewing," he explains. Their beers' alcohol content ranges from 6 to 6.5 percent proof.
We try a Hayboise amber ale, a Cerf Blanc lager that pays tribute to the legend of the hunter of Saint-Hubert lost in the Ardennes, a fruit beer based on wild blueberries, called Laquette Qué nouvelle dans l’bois, and the commemorative Stockport beer. Julien tells us he had to stop his production of Stockport temporarily, due to its enormous success in England! I'm moved by my new Ardennes friend's search for authenticity. Despite being unable to keep up with demand, he didn't want his beer to be produced on an industrial scale.
We've come down into an old slate room. This is where the rock typically found in the region used to be cut. Nowadays, the Clos Belle Rose beers are brewed here. Julien explains that it isn't easy to achieve consistency in production, which is normal in a craft brewery. Sometimes, the vats get blocked and require intervention. I gather that it takes people with a passion to do this kind of work. With the help of this attentive guide, I discover the craft beer production process down to its last detail. First it is brought to boiling point in the first vat, where it takes its colour from the barley, which is crushed by a small grinder. In the second brewing vat, the lumps are broken up, first with a mashing rake, then by a helical-screw device. Julien explains that the residual by-product will be fed to the region's wild boars. Then comes the third vat, a buffer in which the mixture is cooled by the circulation of naturally-filtered water, and the hops are added.
I'm surprised to see that the dried plant has a pellet appearance. Julien crushes the hops which releases a yellow substance called lupulin, an excellent natural preservative. The master brewer gathers his hops from plants along the banks of the Meuse in late September/early October. I realise I've probably walked past those plants without even knowing they were there.
The beverage is left for a fortnight after the addition of yeast which feeds on the sugars and converts them to alcohol. This is also the stage when locally-picked blueberries are poured into the fruit beer vat. "The packaging is the most industrialised section of the craft brewery," jokes Julien. Indeed, the master brewer users a small electric bottler made from recyclable aluminium. I imagine capping the bottles takes a bit of practice. I'm surprised by the authenticity of this work once again when I discover the labelling process. One by one, the labels are stuck onto the bottles after being dipped briefly in a saucer of milk. The smellier the milk, the better they stick!
We cross a stone corridor to reach a second room that's more inviting, with patio doors and a bar-like atmosphere, a small counter and some decorative plaques hanging on the brick wall. The beers are displayed in perfectly straight rows. Julien tells us the thermostat is set at 25 degrees celsius and that brick is excellent for insulation. At first I think we're in the tasting room, but no, there aren't any bubbles! In the large breweries, the bubbles are added before the caps are put on. But here, the capped bottles are taken to a warm room so that the oxygen can produce bubbles naturally. The tour does of course end with a tasting session, a little higher up in the lounge area of the gite.