Brasserie Du Bocq | A Belgian Brewery in Purnode-Yvoir
The sun might shine brilliantly across the Ardennes by day, but Spring nights in Wallonia are cold. Our trip to Brasserie Du Bocq confirms that.
It’s a camping trip to visit the family brewery founded in 1858 by Martin Belot and located in the valley of the small Bocq river. Trekking (and hitch-hiking) from Yvoir to Purnode, we stay at Camping Du Bocq, a cosy and remote campsite in the depths of the valley.
Waking in a shiver early the morning after our arrival, we discover our tent is covered in frost and so we make a quick and unanimous decision to head straight to the brewery with the intention of getting warmed up.
Our host for the day is Sylvie De Schrevel, the Visitor Services Manager at Brasserie Du Bocq. Sylvie grew up in Brussels and switches with ease between Flemish, French and English. We are guided through a working brewery, straining to hear one another against the backdrop of machinery noise and dodging the employees who are controlling the various tanks and bottling machinery.
THE BRASSERIE DU BOCQ STORY
While the brewery is still in the hands of the original family and remains completely independent, the wise decision was taken by Brasserie Du Bocq to bring more expertise from outside the family into the management team in order to overcome some quite serious financial difficulties in the late 1990s.
The revival since that time has been quite phenomenal. The brewery has grown from producing 55,000 hectoliters in 2006 to producing almost double that last year (100,000 hectoliters). They have a total of 45 employees, 25 of whom work directly in production. They produce 2 brews of a particular type of beer each day and their current sales figures stand at over €11 million. The transformation of the brewery has been acknowledged internationally as well, their witbier, Blanche du Namur, having won a gold medal at each of the World Beer Awards in 2009 and the International Beer Challenge in 2013 and their Saison 1858 having been awarded the title of the ‘World’s Best Saison’ at the World Beer Awards in 2013.
The group of people who are responsible for this transformation are affectionately described by managing director, Francis Deraedt as the “Du Bocq dream team” and the decision by the sixth generation of the Belot family to bring these men onto the board of directors has been vindicated.
The ‘dream team’ includes Francis who has been managing director since 2000 (pouring a Triple Moines in the picture above); Brewmaster since 2004, Xavier Yernaux; Commercial Manager since 2006, Olivier Degehet; and a financial officer who has also taken care of administration, IT and HR since 1999 by the name of Dimitri Delcourt.
So how did they do it? How did they transfer the lagging fortunes of a small independent family brewery in rural Wallonia into a commercial and award-winning success? The answer: a focus on quality; and consequent to that, a contract brewing service.
I’m not a brewer, but I can understand what’s wrong” (Francis Deraedt)
Having studied engineering in Ghent, Francis knew that standardised systems and ways of working were key to developing quality in their production and in their beers. And so, Du Bocq got to work in installing new equipment, developing processes and up-skilling their employees.
As a result, Du Bocq achieved BRC five years ago and ISO 22000 last year. ISO 22000 is a series of standards, developed and published by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) that define, establish and maintain an effective quality assurance system for manufacturing and service industries.
By dealing with the fundamentals of a quality management system and principles, Brasserie Du Bocq were able to appeal to professionals working in the industry and offer contract brewing services. Today, brewing for others accounts for two thirds of their production. The people they brew for include the Corsendonk brewery, Marks & Spencers and Waitrose.
Today, Brasserie Du Bocq exports between 40 and 50% of what it produces, mainly to France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Great Britain, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, Australia and Japan. The beers they produce include Agrumbocq, Redbocq, Applebocq, La Gauloise Blonde, Brune and Ambree, Saint Benoit Blonde and Brune, Blanche de Namur, Saison 1858, Triple Moine, Deugniet and Bocq Christmas.
We enjoyed a Gauloise Amber after our tour. The photo above shows the disparity in colour (and clarity) between the tap version and the bottle-conditioned one and the mouthfeel and flavours are as different as you would expect. “The draught Gauloise Amber was designed to be a more refreshing and drinkable,” says Sylvie. “It’s one for long summer days. The bottled version has a much livelier mouthfeel, and a much fuller flavour profile.” They’re the same beer.
Their Saison is pretty well regarded, the style offering a viable alternative to more commercial beers in warm weather.
Brasserie du Bocq’s Saison is called Saison 1858, named after the year the brewery first opened under the watchful eye of Martin Belot, and has the citrus notes and dry finish you’d expect. “It’s my favourite beer from the brewery,” says Sylvie.
BACK TO THE CAMPSITE
We head back to the campsite with two bottles of Saison 1858 we have bought at the brewery.
We just hope that we can drink enough of it to keep ourselves warm that night.