The global craft brewing movement is now in its third decade, and it’s time for the founders of successful craft breweries to be working on their memoirs. While there have been many books about the history of American craft breweries, Chris Bauweraerts’ My Chouffe Story is the first autobiography of a Belgian craft brewer to appear in English. (A book-length interview of Pierre Celis appeared several years ago.)
Bauweraerts, the founder of the Chouffe Brewery, has produced a very interesting autobiography (ably translated by Cathy Behan). Pierre Celis was the Belgian counterpart to Fritz Maytag, someone who took a ruined old brewery and transformed it into a craft-brewing powerhouse. Bauweraerts is comparable to Ken Grossman, in that he is the first modern Belgian craft brewer to be a success.
When Bauweraerts created Chouffe Brewery in 1982, it was the first new brewery in Belgium since Celis revived Hoegaarden as the Celis Brewery in 1966. The event was so unusual that when Bauweraerts made his first 49-liter batch, he had five alcohol tax agents witnessing the event, just to make sure tax collection procedures were properly followed.
In fact, Bauweraerts writes, he had to get special permission from the regional alcohol tax collection agent to brew a batch of less than 100 hectoliters. “Our little brewery came nowhere near the capacity of even one-tenth of the normal minimum quantity at the time,” he writes.
The Chouffe Brewery has, from its outset, been known for its quirky sense of humor. The postal code for Achouffe, where the brewery had its start, is 6666, so Bauweraerts and his colleagues decided that six was their lucky number. They sell clocks warning customers not to drink before six—and of course every digit on the clock is a six. Three devoted Chouffe fans even took their favorite beer with them to Mount Everest—and made sure to drink their beers when they reached 6666 meters!
Chouffe’s humor also extends to its recipes. When the brewers learned that competitors claimed to be using impossibly high amounts of a relatively rare variety of Belgian cherries, Chouffe posted a recipe for one of its beers, which claimed to use precisely nine Brussels sprouts in the boil. A homebrewer adapted the recipe—and made sure his version had a half a Brussels sprout in it.
My Chouffe Story tells of the growth of Chouffe, which was taken over by Duvel Moortgat in 2006. There are accounts of how Bauweraerts and his colleagues sold Chouffe all over the world, as well as detailed descriptions of all the beers Chouffe has ever made.
Chris Bauweraerts is a charming writer, and My Chouffe Story is a very enjoyable history of one of Belgium’s quirkiest and most unusual breweries.