The area of Ath, in Wallonia, is home to more than just great beer; this is the land of the Giants! Since the middle ages, Ath has been known for its annual Parade of Giants in which Goliath, locally known as "Gouyasse," leads brass bands and fellow colossal-sized kinsmen through the streets, towering above carnival floats and groups of more ordinary-sized citizens in customary costumes. No surprise then that the local brewery (in Irchonwelz) is named Brasserie des Géants (a.k.a. the Giants' Brewery).
Not only do they craft big beers that live up to their name, their homestead is rather sizable as well. Incorporated into the remarkably well-preserved remains of the thirteenth century Castle d'Irchonwelz, the site somehow manages to unite quaint charm and indomitable fortitude. And, as they're quick to point out on brewery tours (yes, they are open for tours—a must if you are ever in the area), their entry gate is hung high enough to permit the occasional giants who may wish to stop in for a quick pint—er, keg—of beer.
Interestingly, there's sort of a paradox at play here. The name Irchonwelz comes from the word for hedgehog (urchon), a rather small creature, and the local inhabitants are affectionately referred to as "urchons." Perhaps to a hedgehog, any visitor could be considered a giant—could this be where the giants of local lore come from? No idea really, but it's sort of a fun notion to consider. If anyone has ever been there, or plans a trip, please ask this question and get back to us! OK, we've spun enough of our own mythology here; back to the brewery…
Founded in 2000 by a couple of young urchons, Pierre Delcoigne and Vinciane Wergifosse, The Giants' Brewery was built and is run by the pair. Pierre, a graduate of the famed Brewing Engineering program of the Louvain School of Brewing, has been brewing strong for years now. In 1997, he and Vinciane acquired the Castle d'Irchonwelz in order to develop their ambitions of creating the Giants' Brewery. After two full years of construction and set up, the brewery opened. Their first brew, known as "Gouyasse" (Goliath in the local dialect), went on sale in August 2000 (perfect timing, as the annual festival of Giants is held during the fourth weekend of August), and all their brews are fit for giant thirsts—and Giants—alike. But don't let the name fool you; despite their Herculean title, these folks produce small batches of beer. Their brews are never short on flavor, and some could definitely be considered "big beers," but all are created in small batches and released in limited quantities. In fact, in the world of European brewing conglomerates, these folks are far more akin to David than Goliath. We wonder how they feel about the little man taking down a giant, given their appreciation of Giants and all… But we're sure they feel connected to both characters in that story—the little guy in the big world of brewing giants, and the colossus of brewing prowess. Like the brewery and these dichotomous elements, their beers have complexity that's worth mulling over—so no more digressions from us Lilliputians—get to it!
For more information about the brewery, check out their web site: http://www.brasseriedesgeants.com.