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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 15:35 GMT
Brewer bets on euro boost
Achouffe
Beer from this tiny village goes all over the world
The arrival of the euro is imminent, with the first coins due to be handed out at the end of this week. BBC News Online's James Arnold is on a tour of the eurozone to take the region's temperature ahead of this momentous changeover. His fifth report comes from the village of Achouffe, in Belgium's Ardennes region.

Chris Bauweraerts' beer isn't really brewed by gnomes, but he's happy for you to think it is.

Gnomes are everywhere at this little brewery deep in the Ardennes hills, peeping around corners, plastered on the walls - and, of course, stamped on every bottle and keg it produces.

A d'Achouffe gnome
One of the brewery's key employees
"The gnome is a great symbol for the Brasserie d'Achouffe," Mr Bauweraerts says. "Every brewery in Belgium has a monk on its labels, so we wanted something a little different.

"And visitors love it - especially those from the Netherlands and Scandinavia."

This international marketing is crucial: not only does the Brasserie d'Achouffe export two-thirds of its beer, but it runs a lucrative sideline in guided tours, meals and beer tastings.

For precisely the same reason, Mr Bauweraerts has high hopes for the imminent introduction of the euro.

From phones to foam

Mr Bauweraerts is an unusual brewer.

A telecoms engineer by training, he set up the Brasserie d'Achouffe 19 years ago almost on a whim in partnership with his brother-in-law.

Chris Bauweraerts
Mr Bauweraerts is not your average brewer
This year, he aims to produce 1.7 million litres of his La Chouffe and McChouffe beers - the first light, the second dark, and both strong, cloudy and tinged with coriander.

Close links with Dutch giant Heineken mean that most goes to the thirsty Netherlands market, but his beer also finds its way as far as Britain, the United States, Israel and Australia.

At the same time, the coach party business has taken off: the brewery gets about 6,000 visitors a year, and Mr Bauweraerts says he has to turn away four times as many owing to lack of time.

"Big brewers might see beer as a business," the defiantly informal Mr Bauweraerts says. "I see it as a way of life."

Out with the old...

All the same, the arrival of the euro is going to mean a few changes at the Brasserie d'Achouffe.

The d'Achouffe cash register
The first casualty of the euro
The ancient cash register used in the brewery shop is having to go, replaced by a shiny, computer-driven model to handle the single currency.

Mr Bauweraerts is also having to hike the price of his brewery tours from the current 150 francs (2.50) per person to five euros - a rise of about one-quarter.

The extra euro, he says, will be put towards the cost of hiring a dedicated tour-guide.

... in with the tourists

But Mr Bauweraerts hopes the euro will bring him more benefits than hassles.

"At the moment, we take any cash we can get - dollars, pounds, Deutschmarks, whatever people want to give us.

Piles of banknotes
One currency could help sort out this mess
"Hopefully, the euro will cut down all the trouble of dealing in all these currencies."

Better still, the euro could help open the wallets of the legions of American tourists the region attracts - a legacy of its role in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

"One euro is pretty much one dollar - Americans might not be able to do the sums in francs, but in euros, it won't be a problem."

Crucially, too, Mr Bauweraerts hopes it might help in his pet project - attracting more French and German tourists to help reduce dependence on ageing war veterans.

"If a French or German fancies making a weekend trip, the euro will make it just a little easier to make a spontaneous decision."

Business worries

In the nearby town of Bastogne, the euro is regarded a little more warily.

Serge Bertholet, owner of the Bistro Leo, the town's main showcase for d'Achouffe beers, grumbles that customers keep dumping huge quantities of small change on him as the changeover approaches.

Tasting McChouffe beer
One of the perks of the job
Many Belgian businesses, it seems, are disgruntled at having to do the job of banks, hoovering up Belgian francs and giving out euros in exchange.

The talk among local businesspeople, says Mr Bauweraerts, is that Belgium could even start to run short of euros.

Time will tell

What with all small businesses' concerns about the euro, Mr Bauweraerts reckons it is much too early to tell whether everything will go smoothly or not.

"In six months time, then we might have a better idea of how it is all going to work," he says.

But despite his fundamental optimism about the euro, he cannot help the tug of national affiliation.

"I think that even in two or three years, I am still going to be reckoning everything in francs."


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