You heard it here first. For people who love good beer, and French beer in particular, Ardwen is a name to remember. The craft beer, produced in a little village in the French Ardennes, has won a string of awards in beer competitions in London, France and Miami, including best French beer in the World Beer Awards golden ale category. And it’s delicious.
We visited Ardwen on a press trip with Ardennes Tourism, organised by BritMums, which you can read more about here. Charles-Antoine, a young Ardennais entrepreneur with a background in micro-biology, bought Ardwen from the 72-year old farmer who originally established the brand as a retirement project. As well as giving us some of his French craft beer to try, Charles-Antoine hosted us for lunch at Brasserie Ardwen, so that we could write about his family business.
French craft beer: the history
People have brewed and enjoyed beer for over 2,000 years. The Egyptians reportedly produced the stuff, and Cleaopatra used it as a beauty tonic. France used to be a hotspot of beer production, with priests brewing the stuff in 1,000s of locations up until World War II. But the industry was decimated during the 1940s. Hitler’s army commandeered the copper from France’s brewing tanks to make weapons. Most of the breweries closed. By the early 1980s, only 20 breweries existed in France.
But since the beginning of the 21st Century, French beer has had a renaissance. Now 1,600 breweries produce beer across the country, and the number is rising. The Ardennes hasn’t reached anywhere near its pre-WWII level of 300 breweries. But beer-making is on the rise.
What is Ardwen?
Ardwen is a craft beer brewery deep in the countryside of the French Ardennes. This part of France is north of Champagne, on the Belgian border. Although French wine is the country’s most famous alcoholic beverage, just like its wine, the beer produced in the Ardennes is also super-high quality. Belgium might be known for its beer, but the French Ardennes shares a similar climate, landscape and crops with its neighbour just across the border. And Ardwen’s was as good as, if not better than, any Belgian beer I’ve tried.
Ardwen’s logo, dreamt up by the farmer who created the brewery, is a picture of a woman riding a wild boar. The wild boar is a symbol of the region, and hunting is a popular pastime, with the season extending all the way from October through till February. Ardwen’s founder used to hunt these creatures in the thick forest surrounding his village. The brewery’s name is derived from Arduinna, the Celtic goddess who was said to ride boar through the Ardennais forests.
Ardwen Address: 20, Avenue Roger Ponsat, 08430 Launois Sur Vence
Types of French beers at Ardwen microbrewery
Ardwen produces seven different types of beer, plus a seasonal ‘Christmas beer’. Two – Woinic APA and Woinic Rouge – are named after the gigantic 10m-high Woinic wild boar sculpture, which sits at the roadside to welcome visitors and warn them that the boars of the Ardennes mean business.
I tried the 6.5% Ardwen Ambrée, made using whisky malt. It had the same deep, earthy tones of the Scottish beverage. Ardwen Cerise tasted similar to a Belgian fruit beer, but with less of a sugary aftertaste, and a vibrant burst of cherry flavour. One of my travel companions described it as similar to a Bakewell tart, encased in delicious beer. We all enjoyed the Hops Cure, which at 8% was Ardwen’s strongest drink. But although it was deep and complex, it still had a light, fruity character, with none of the cloying treacle effect that sometimes comes with stronger beer.
What makes a good craft beer?
Craft beers take longer to brew than their industrial counterparts. Ardwen beer production lasts two months, with a double fermentation to add natural bubbles at the end. Hops, yeast and malt are all grown locally, and these beer ingredients are combined with fresh, pure countryside water. The exact process is top-secret (we weren’t allowed to take any pictures of the brewing tanks, only to look), but Charles-Antoine did tell us that a new machine will allow his beer production to increase fourfold (the brewery currently makes 5,500 hectolitres per year).
Restaurant at Ardwen brewery
To help promote his beer and bring people into the brewery shop, the farmer set up a bar/restaurant. When we visited, at Sunday lunchtime, the brasserie was buzzing with local families, eating hearty meals of pork filet mignon, cod, or juicy burgers topped with Camembert. Parents and grandparents sipped Ardwen Blanche and Ardwen Blonde, the two most fêted brands, from elegant long-stemmed beer glasses. At the bar, young men and women tucked into IPA beer, or the stronger Hops Cure. There was a lively, friendly vibe, with staff taking meal orders in between carrying metal barrels to the bar. The scent of hops hung in the air and mingled with the cooking aromas. It was a pleasant, relaxed way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
How to ask for a beer in French
To ask for a beer in the Ardennes (or anywhere else in France, for that matter), you can say “je voudrais une biere” or “une biere s’il vous plait“.
Which are your favourite Fench beer brands?
You can take a guided tour of Ardwen Brewery. To find out more and to pe-book, visit the Ardwen website.
To find out more about things to see and do in the French Ardennes, visit the Tourisme Ardennes website. I’ve written a guide to all the things to see and do in the Ardennes with kids – check that out here.
You might also be interested to read about my visit to a microbrewery in Norway, the Ægir Brewpub.
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