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Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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Beer sellers: mi orge mi houblon, Arlon

First published in Beers of the World April 2009

I’m particularly proud of this piece as it was the first time I interviewed someone in a language other than English. Christophe Gillard speaks English more than well enough to offer assistance to the international customers in his shop, but talking in greater depth about the business and the local beer culture, he was clearly more comfortable in his native French. What you’re reading below are my translations.

When you’re researching great beer shops and get a personal recommendation from Tim Webb, compiler of the authoritative Good Beer Guide Belgium, you don’t take it lightly. And so I find myself one chilly early spring day on a lengthy but scenic train journey from Brussels to Belgium’s hilly far southeast. My destination is the country’s oldest town, Arlon, provincial capital of Belgian Luxembourg, and the last stop before entering the Grand Duchy of the same name.

It’s a pretty little town rich in Celtic, Roman and mediaeval heritage, with terraced streets clinging to a hillside. Brewing traditions in this rural region are also deep rooted. Sadly few of the once prolific village breweries survived to the 1970s but the past couple of decades have seen a number of intriguing new micros appearing.

Christophe Gillard, propriètaire de mi orge mi houblon, Arlon.

In 2005, local beer enthusiast Christophe Gillard left his job in a Luxembourg bank to “do something I’d enjoy”, opening the town’s first ever beer shop, Mi-Orge Mi-Houblon (Half Barley Half Hops). It’s been a great success, and by the time you read this he’ll have relocated to a new custom-built environmentally friendly wooden building at the bottom of the hill, near the station. As well as bigger and better storage for his range of around 250 beers from 40 breweries, the move will provide better parking for customers that come from far and wide. This might particularly please his patrons among the US troops stationed in nearby Luxembourg, who have been known to turn up in armoured Hummers.

Présentation des gueuzes artisanales à mi orge mi houblon

The shop’s 100% craft-brewed range has good showings for young, small but dynamic local micros like Rulles, Sainte Hélène and Millevertus, all of whom balance appreciation of tradition with healthy innovation. It extends to great beers from other parts of French-speaking Belgium (Caracole, Dupont, Vapeur), some good Flemish choices (Dolle, Anker), a comprehensive range of Trappists (Orval is the province’s sole significant surviving pre-war brewery) and a cellar of fine lambics from the likes of Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen.

Astonishingly for Belgium, there’s a small range of imported beer too. “Belgium has some of the best beers,” says Christophe, “but it’s no longer the case that ‘if it’s Belgian, it’s good’. There are some excellent beers from other countries that Belgians just don’t know about. I find different beer cultures interesting. Breweries in Colorado are brewing Belgian-style beers, while Britain has porters that once influenced Belgian beer styles.” His customers agree as beers from the likes of Thiriez, Unibroue and Flying Dog sell well.

Des chocolats artisanales à mi orge mi houblon

Christophe’s second passion is chocolate, and the unrealised potential for food matching it with beer. He’s teamed up with artisanal chocolatier Jean-François Vaux, originally from the South of France but now based nearby, and the Rulles brewery to create JeanChris Numéro 1, not a chocolate beer but a beer designed to taste with chocolate. Numéro 2 is soon to follow, this time from the Sainte Hélène brewery. You’ll find Jean’s chocolates and several other artisanal food goodies on sale, including as part of beer and chocolate gift packs.

Des prix des bières et chocolats à mi orge mi houblon

Christophe’s enthusiasm for sharing knowledge extends to a tasting club, currently with a waiting list, and a beer (and beer and chocolate) tasting service, as well as the guidance he volunteers as a matter of course to curious customers. And amazingly the shop remains a second job: he also teaches business studies full time, thus the limited opening hours. “I love beer because the tastes are so varied,” he says. “Gueuze is acidic, there’s the bitterness in hoppy beers that you don’t find in any other products, there’s a different beer and a different pleasure for every occasion. It’s la richesse gustative de la bière, beer’s richness of taste”.

Fact file

Address: 56 rue du Gazomètre, 6700 Arlon
Phone: +32 (0)63 677673
Web: www.miorgemihoublon.be
Hours: Tue-Fri 1600-1900, Sat 0900-1830
Drink in? No
Mail order: No

Manager’s favourites: Cantillon & Drie Fonteinen Gueuze, Rulles Estivale, Saison Dupont, Borgo Re Ale

Beer picks

All from Belgian Luxembourg

  • Fantôme 8%, Soy-Erezée. Idiosyncratic saison from an eccentric but erratic brewer, dosed with hand-picked local herbs and bursting with berry fruit, toffee and cider notes.
  • Millevertus Mère vertus 9%, Toernich. Orange golden triple indulging Belgium’s new taste for hops alongside caramel, toast and spicy citrus. Brewery suggests saying six Our Fathers and three Hail Marys after each swallow.
  • Orval 6.2%, Villers-devant-Orval. The most noncomformist of the Trappist beers, at its mature best a taste extravaganza of orange, peach, incense, Indian spice and a slug of sourness.
  • Rulles Jean-Chris No 1 6%, Rulles. Soft, clean and fruity amber ale with a lightly roasty finish, designed to be drunk with chocolate but excellent in its own right.
  • Saint-Monon Brune 7.5%, Ambly. Tasty brown from a delightfully rustic brewer, with soft rich malt, pastilley winey red fruit, liquorice and herbal hops.

3 comments to Beer sellers: mi orge mi houblon, Arlon

  • A review that made me pin the place on my Google maps as somewhere to visit in the future, thanks for sharing!

  • I recently reviewed the Rulles Jean-Chris Numero 1 and drank it alongside a choclate pudding, unsuprisingly it went really well. I’ve also tried the Rulles Estivale which I thought was excellent. He sounds like a great guy, passionate about beer and chocolate and very dedicated to keep all those plates in the air!

    Still on the hunt for anything from Fantome, so maybe it’s time to convince the family for a Belgian adventure!

  • Des

    Yes, saw your review of JC 1. Stll haven’t tasted JC2!

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