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  • Writer's pictureThe Belgian

The Warming Darkness

Belgian strong dark ales are a revered slice of the spectrum of beer styles, known for their rich complexity and intriguing history. These beers are characterised by their deep, dark colour, high alcohol content, and a palate that can range from sweet to fruity, with occasional spicy undertones.

Their origins trace back to the monastic and secular breweries of medieval Belgium, where they were crafted as a warming option during the cold winter months. Monks, seeking to create nourishing beverages that also adhered to their ascetic lifestyle, initially developed these beers. Over centuries, these ales evolved, influenced by the availability of local ingredients and the creativity of intrepid Belgian brewers. This development was not just about crafting a beverage but was also tied deeply to the cultural and social fabric of Belgian life, where beer is considered an integral part of community and celebration.

One of the most iconic Belgian strong dark ales is McChouffe. Brewed by Brasserie d'Achouffe, which is nestled in the heart of the Ardennes mountains, McChouffe stands out with its distinctive taste and folklore-inspired branding. The brewery itself was founded in 1982 by two brothers-in-law, Pierre Gobron and Christian Bauweraerts. The idea initially took root over a few beers, as many great ideas do, and with a modest initial investment, the two set out to brew a beer that would capture the essence of their Belgian heritage.

McChouffe specifically was first brewed in 1986. It is an artfully crafted ale that blends the rich traditions of Belgian brewing with a unique, modern twist. The beer is unfiltered, which contributes to its cloudy appearance and rich flavour profile. It boasts a robust 8% alcohol by volume, making it a hearty choice for ale enthusiasts. Its taste profile is complex, featuring a blend of sweet, fruity notes alongside a subtle bitterness, with hints of spices and a noticeable malty backbone. This complexity makes McChouffe not just a beer, but an experience, reflecting the deep, storied history and craftsmanship of Belgian ales.

The branding of McChouffe cleverly incorporates Belgian folklore, featuring a gnome, which is a mythical creature deeply rooted in European folklore. This gnome, named Marcel, is depicted enjoying the ale in the mystical Ardennes forest, linking the beer to a sense of place and myth. This branding strategy not only enhances the beer's mystical and local allure but also pays homage to the rich tapestry of stories and legends that are the warp and the weft of the region's cultural heritage. Did you know that 'The Smurfs' is also Belgian creation where they are known as 'Les Schtroumpfs' in the original French?

McChouffe has gained international renown, not only for its distinct flavour but also for its cultural significance. It embodies the Belgian tradition of brewing excellence and continues to be celebrated in beer festivals around the world. The ale's reputation is bolstered by its frequent awards and accolades in international beer competitions, marking it as a standout among Belgian ales.

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