Brasserie d’ Achouffe, or the Achouffe Brewery, is the only gnome-themed brewery in the world. Therefore, it also happens to be my favorite brewery in the world.
Founded in 1982 (a year before me!), Achouffe is nestled in the green hills of the Belgian Ardennes and brews superb-quality Belgian beers. Brother-in-laws Pierre Gorbon and Christian Bauweraerts began brewing ales as a hobby in the late 70s. Their spearhead product is La Chouffe, a golden blonde ale with a pleasantly fruity taste and hints of coriander. McChouffe (which is in no way related to McDonald’s), is a dark and full-flavored Scottish ale and is one of the brewery’s best-selling products.
Although I haven’t yet found a way to teleport myself to Belgium, the Internet tells me that visitors can take a tour of the brewery while wearing gnome hats. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Tours include a professional guide, introductory film, 45-minute tour, visit to the gift shop, drink samples, and souvenir gifts.
In recent months, Achouffe has been hosting “Chouffe Fests” in cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In honor of LaChouffe Gnome Week, which was September 18-21, the brewery organized community events, handed out red gnome hats, and encouraged fans to “gnome thyself” with a fun mobile app.
Finally, (FINALLY!) a Chouffe Fest was scheduled in my home base, Chicago. It was held at the Logan Square Auditorium on a Thursday evening in late March.
Chouffe Fests are one-night events that transform boring old event spaces into gnome-inspired realms using larger-than-life entrance ways, eight-foot tall gnome throne photo booths, and big-scale versions of classic games like checkers, Jenga and Connect Four. Scattered stations offer live screen-printed posters, on-site letter pressed postcards to write and send, coloring book pages to scribble on, and a gnome-i-fying caricature artist.
Tickets were just $10 each and I bought mine the day I heard about the event.
Although I found the set-up to be quite wonderful, the execution was quite excruciating. I arrived before the gnomes even opened the doors and quickly nabbed my first beer. Tickets included five drink tickets and free food, photos, games, and music.
But there was a catch.
Who knew SO many people in Chicago loved gnomes? Or maybe it was just the beer.
Hundreds of people began flooding into the close-quartered event space. Within an hour, it took more than 30 minutes to get through the beer line. Yes, there was food at the end of the tunnel, but I began gnawing at my own arm during a painful wait for my miniature slider and bag of chips.
Since I arrived so early, I was able to get my caricature drawn – which was what I was looking forward to the most. In a totally weird way, I’ve always seen myself as a gnome, and now the rest of the world could too. This was the night I gnomed myself.
I was also able to get a couple professional pics taken in the oversize chair and snag a poster and a few postcards (hey did you guys get them? I’m always worried about the reliability of postcard mail). My patience ran too thin to stand in additional lines to play the oversize games, but I’m already pretty good at using my imagination to pretend I’m gnome-sized.
A DJ spun some unremarkable tunes during the bulk of the event, but then in truly random fashion, an oompah oompah band seized the back balcony. Every gnome hat spun 180-degrees.
It’s a crying shame, but I wasn’t even able to use up all my drink tickets because of the ridiculous lines. Despite the wonderfully gnomish quality of this event, I was reminded of a timely and important fact: I DESPISE CROWDS AND FESTIVALS REALLY AREN’T THAT FUN ANYMORE.
Maybe that feeling comes from living in an overpopulated, stressful place for too long. Or maybe it comes from turning 30. But in the end, this was a gnome-themed event and there was beer. And if you have any inkling of how much I enjoy these two things individually – let alone together – putting on a happy face really wasn’t all that much of a challenge.
Regardless of the gnomes Brasserie d’ Achouffe makes really amazing beer, and I hope these nationwide events spark people’s interest and lead to more local bars serving their brews. I gotta cut the Chouffe-sters a little slack about the organization and crowd issues since it is their first year. Chouffe Fests are selling out all over the country (Brooklyn and D.C. just wrapped up last week) and good for them!
Oh, and on my way out, I didn’t forget to stock up on few extra gnome hats. There were plenty and don’t judge me….I know I have a problem. And I now have four gnome hats to accompany my other two. Obscure costume needs? Send ’em my way!