‘Small is Beautiful’

Brasserie de Blaugies is growing beyond the garage where it’s produced rustic ales for 30 years. But only a little, the family tells John Rega.

Pierre-Alex Carlier and Marie-Noëlle Pourtois have the future of Brasserie de Blaugies staked out in their back yard.

For three decades, the couple have produced some of Hainaut province’s most sought-after farmhouse-style ales, albeit in their garage, not an agricultural estate.

Marie-Noëlle was a science teacher and Pierre-Alex a physiotherapist when they decided in 1987 to build on their home-brewing hobby.

As Pierre-Alex recounts, Belgian law at the time would license breweries only if they cranked out factory volumes. Along with nearby Abbaye Des Rocs, de Blaugies lobbied to loosen those strictures, opening the way for a generation of artisanal producers.

Their first releases, in 1988, remain stalwarts.

La Moneuse is full of complexity and spice character, a hit of rustic funk, ample carbonation and more bitterness than a prototypical Belgian amber ale. The name refers to a bandit of local lore, a forebear of Marie-Noëlle. It finishes dry in the mode of an Hainaut saison, if you stretch the definition of the style to 8 percent alcohol. Pierre-Alex does not.

Bière Darbyste, lighter in color and alcohol, at 5.8 percent, but with as much character and body, thanks to the use of wheat. The name alludes to home brews once common in the area, their lower strength mocked as ‘Darby’s beer,’ after the temperance preached by the Darby religious community. The modern edition also uses fig juice — as fuel for fermentation, not flavor, in a sort of joke on what the villagers called their tipple to confuse the preachers.

Saison d’Epeautre came two years later.

Saison d’Epeautre came two years later. Finally de Blaugies assumed the mantle of saison, the seasonal farmhouse beers centered in Hainaut province. Epeautre means spelt, an older breed of wheat used in the brew, enhancing the house character of citrus and pepper with a tart edge.

La Moneuse Spéciale Noël also came that year as a maltier seasonal, now labeled Special Winter Ale.

The lineup remained until 2013, when de Blaugies’s US importer, Shelton Brothers, brokered a collaboration with the American saison devotee, Hill Farmstead Brewery of Vermont.

In the garage, the collaborators laid in the epeautre with an “American touch” of Amarillo hops. Pierre-Alex says he had to argue to rein in the degree of that touch. The result is a fresh and modern Hainaut saison. The supposed “one-shot” brew continues as a semi-regular, most of it exported stateside.

Expansions to the brewery over the years have been small, and piecemeal — an extension on the garage, then a warehouse and bottling line on a parcel of land acquired across the street.

Now, just behind the family home, yellow tape is staked in the lawn where a new brewhouse will stand, just waiting for a water-treatment permit. Operation could start this spring.

“Our goal is to brew a beer of as high quality as we do now.”

Output will more than double — but from de Blaugies’s size, it’s no more of a leap than moving from the garage into the house.

“Our goal is not to be a big brewery,” Pierre-Alex explains after showing the future site through the kitchen window. “Our goal is to brew a beer of as high quality as we do now.”

De Blaugies will “open the gate” of production only because they get more orders than they can fill.

“We want to stay a family brewery,” he insists. “Small is beautiful. Big is complicated.”

In the early days, Pierre-Alex and Marie-Noëlle leaned on their fathers for help with bottling. Elder son Kévin now heads brewing operations.

Across the road, younger son Cédric has opened the restaurant le Fourquet. “The mash paddle” offers Belgian classics like chicon au gratin infused with la Moneuse. The beer perfectly compliments the vegetable’s bitterness plus the tanginess of the cheese and sweetly roasted flavors of the ham — a steak, not a slice, in this dish.

The spouses and even grandkids are involved, down to the youngest, who, on a recent visit, was charming all comers from a high chair by the kitchen door. Pierre-Alex, an apron girding his ample frame, meanwhile turns generous cuts of meat on the wood fire in the center of the dining room.

“We work together as a family,” explains Marie-Noëlle, who’s ceded brewing duties but still keeps the books and works behind the bar.