Go to content

To Bellevaux, for serious beer

Tom Schuwer is a second-generation brewer at Bellevaux. In the old farm that now houses the brewery, he uses local ingredients to make half a dozen types of traditional Belgian beer. The village is also the starting point for hikes through the valleys of the Rivers Warche and Amel.

Text: Jan Maier Picture: Oliver Raatz

Surrounded by lush green meadows and fields, the Bellevaux brewery in East Belgium is housed in a set of old farm buildings. It is one of several small breweries in the region. Wild vines cling to the natural stone façade of a former barn, the neighbour's dog dozes in the grass, and the brewery's own hop garden acts as a backdrop. In the beer garden in front of the former stable, customers sit under a tree in the partial shade. It’s like a village within a village.

"We only brew beers that we like," says brewmaster Tom Schuwer. “We’re not trying to please as many people as possible. It’s this personal touch makes our beers special.” Thirty-year-old Tom has been brewing Belgian beers in this family business for almost ten years, keeping to old traditions: small quantities, unpasteurised, unfiltered, with regional ingredients as far as possible. The microbrewery bottles about 1000 hectolitres every year. The water used in brewing comes from the Ardennes, the hops from their own garden (and also Alsace), and the grain is malted in Belgium.

Tom's parents, Carla and William Schuwer, bought the abandoned farm, 6 kilometres south of Malmedy, in 2006 and converted it into a brewery. Since then, they've been doing everything themselves, "from recipe development and ingredient selection to label design and sales". Tom was involved in the brewing from the start, but bit by bit has taken over the running of the business. His mother Carla and sister Elisa take care of the hospitality side.

From the tables in the beer garden, visitors can see at the copper-coloured brew kettles in the barn. At weekends, the Schuwers also give brewery tours on request. As we arrive, Tom is heaving a sack of freshly milled malted barley onto his shoulder. The pleasant smell of grain hangs in the air. In the mash tun, he mixes the grain with water and turns on the heat. After a good hour, the resulting mash is filtered, a few kilograms of hops are added, and all is brought to a boil. Later, Tom will add more hop cones (flowerheads) to the brew, because "that's how we get nice the hoppy flavours”. And you can taste them clearly in the six different types of beer made at Bellevaux.

We go down into the cellar. Already on the stairs, we can feel a significant drop in temperature. Below, we see the metre high stainless steel tanks in which the beers mature. As soon as the brew has cooled down, the brewmaster adds yeast a specific culture for each type of beer. After that, it takes about three to four weeks until the brew is ready to drink. But you can try it earlier. This sneak preview is what the brewers call "Zwickelbier" or “bière de cave”. Tom opens tap in the tank to take a small amount and holds the glass up to the light. The brown ale glows with strong chestnut colours, its foam is firm, it smells malty. Tom takes a sip and nods. The brewmaster is satisfied.

Views across a beautiful valley

Light, brown, dark, wheat beer, lager and a traditional Belgian strong beer, plus two or three other special varieties depending on the season – at the Bellevaux brewery, customers can enjoy the art of brewing in all its natural diversity. The beer garden and tavern also serve tasty local specialities such as beer bread with its rich flavour of malt, various types of cheese, smoked trout, and ham with wild herb mustard. Everything comes from within a radius of about 30 kilometres, and – as Tom explains – they buy organic whenever possible. And if you like what you taste here, you can buy the produce to take home, in the farm shop next to the beer garden.

Bellevaux means “beautiful valley”. And indeed, the charming valley of the River Warche is only a few minutes' walk from the brewery. One of East Belgium’s planned walking trails leads to a series of beautiful places in the area. It starts at the church of Bellevaux and is signposted with a blue rectangle and a picture of a rooster. Sometimes the Warche is a peaceful little river, at others it’s a raging torrent. The highlight of the tour is the Warche-Felsen (or Rocher de Warche), a prominent rock with panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.

More information

You might also be interested in