In the small town of Stenay on the Meuse can be found this extremely well put together museum devoted to the craft of making beer down the ages.
Stenay was for numerous centuries a military town and the museum is housed in the former food store of the 17th century citadelle. In 1879 an enterprising owner turned the structure into a malting house. Time and wars passed and the building fell into disuse.
Having been bought by a group of enthusiasts a beer museum was created and opened to the public in 1986.
For its size and content the museum is unique in Europe, and offers a chance to retrace the development of beer making from the earliest moments up until the modern era. In 2005 it was refurbished and equipped with information touch screens. There are some 45 000 items on view in an area of 1400sq metres.
At the end of the tour the brasserie offers a large selection of beers from the local area as well as the chance to enjoy a meal.
Whilst most of the panels are in French there is always a summary in English. An explanatory pamphlet is also available.
The price of entry is 5€ and the museum is open from the beginning of March until the end of November.
The building is well signposted and the car park can be found at the bottom of the town near the Meuse River. A short walk up through the beer garden brings you to the entrance.
The visit follows a set course through the museum commencing on the ground floor with a small presentation about the building itself and how it came to house the collection.
From there you go up to the next floor (a lift is available) and begin learning how beer is made. Large buckets contain samples of barley and hops that you can pick up and smell whilst reading the panels explaining the process.
The beginnings of beer making were obviously quite crude and representations of a Gallo-Roman brewery alongside that of a medieval brewery help you realise just how far the process has come.
The monasteries played an important part in brewing traditions as many of them still do to this day in France and Belgium. However the 12th Century saw the introduction of lay breweries. By then hops had been introduced to help flavour and preserve the beer and by the 15th it had been realised that the beer kept better if it was kept cold in the caves.
For the next four centuries little would change in the methods used - even if the scale has increased as can be seen by a traditional brewery from 1869, everything is still operated manually.
Then the industrial revolution took hold and as can be seen by the brewery from the end of the 19th century the system may look the same but machines are now very much in evidence.
The reconstruction of the brewing hall of Clavy-Warby (Ardennes) of 1921 shows that all the real work was by then carried out by diesel engines. The three large copper kettles are quite impressive.
The methods of brewing beer slowly became more complex and a laboratory has been reconstructed to highlight the fact that following Louis Pasteur's work in 1876 it was now possible to control the fermentation process. This would lead to not only better beers but also the ability to reproduce certain qualities in a beer. We have reached massed production.
Of course making beer is one thing but it still has to be put into bottles and marketed.
There are a number of bottling machines on show and the exhibition finishes with a collection of local advertisements grouped in themes. There are hundreds of beer glasses to admire and a nod is also made to modern ideas - beer mats, baseball caps, lighters, pens etc.
Back down the stairs and you come to the brasserie which has a small boutique of local beers and of course there are lots to try where you are - all in moderation of course.
All in all a satisfying way of passing a couple of hours by the banks of the Meuse.
From the museum if you head up into the town centre you will see the old artillery barracks on your right behind the town war memorial. There used to be three barracks in Stenay but this block is all that survives and it has been turned into flats.
You will notice that on one side of the memorial it has the devil's head on it. This has become a symbol of the town and can be seen again on the Mairie.
One of those mentioned on the memorial is Sous-Lieutenant Louis Franchet Espèrey the son of Maréchal Louis Franchet Espèrey (known to the British as Desperate Frankie). In 1897 the father was stationed in Stenay as Commanding officer of the 18è Chasseurs à pied (light infantry).
The son was serving with the 401è RI (Infantry Regiment) when he was killed at Verdun on the 25th October 1916, four days after his 19th birthday.
The road you are walking up is that of the 18th Chasseurs who remained garrisoned here up until just before the First World War broke out. They were moved closer up to the border with Germany - which was no longer so far away, as most of Lorraine had been occupied since 1871 following the Franco-Prussian war.
Not far away is the quite superb citadelle at Montmédy and it would only be a short drive from there across the border into Belgium and the Abbey of Orval - one of only seven Trappist monasteries that brews its own beer.
As a footnote to the beer connection, Stenay had also belonged to the husband of Mathilde of Tuscany who is indelibly connected to Orval Abbey. When her husband, Godefroy the Hunchback was murdered he left his possessions, including Stenay to his nephew Godefroy of Bouillon who would take Jerusalem in 1099 during the 1st Crusade. To finance his participation he had been forced to sell the town to the Bishop of Verdun.
Also within the area is the possibly unique ossuary at Marville and the site of the first combat of 1914 on French soil at Mangiennes.