Wednesday, 1 May 2013

In Bruges

Having heard so many wonderful stories of other peoples trips to Bruges and having tried and failed to take advantage of Eurostar's discounted returns in the past, Christine & I finally managed to get across the channel for a few days this month to sample the delights of Belgium.

Bruges by Night
After changing trains in Brussels we arrived in Bruges just after lunch and set about finding somewhere to eat. Scanning "Around Bruges In 80 Beers”, Brasserie Cambrinus was aptly located in between our B&B and the main Markt square. Looking through the menu is quite daunting, presented in a heavy wooden bound book & with over 400 to choose from I got flustered and ended up choosing the beer of the month Lefebvre's Hoppus 8.3% which was beautiful hoppy and creamy. Christine was a little braver and perused through the menu for longer choosing Pilaarbijter 7.5% by Brouwerij Bavik a blonde tripple.

We spent the afternoon touring the sites of Bruges. Making our way up the 365 steps of the medieval Belfry with its breath taking views across Markt square. As well as navigating the endless winding cobbled streets trying to locate both of Bruges' Cathedrals. Including The Church of Our Lady with its impressive Madonna and Child sculpture, created by Michelangelo, the only of his sculptures to leave Italy during his lifetime (see its not just all about beer).

Getting weary after an afternoons climbing and walking we headed for an afternoon pit stop. One of the bars that had been heavily recommended to us was t'Brugs Beertje,
Having been pre-warned that it would be
 t'Brugs Beertje
closed the following day (Bars in Belgium have the most sporadic opening times and rarely even then rarely stick to them!), we headed along back through town for an afternoon tipple. Inside Beertje has the look and familiar feel of an English local, with smoke stained walls and plefra of vintage brewery signs adorning them. The bar was full when we arrived so we took an empty table in the quieter back room and sat down to scan across the 250+ beer menu. Christine took the chance to try some of the Trappist wears from Achel with their 8° Blond 8% whilst I had a De Dolle Arabier 8% which I'd  been looking forward too and was amber in colour and with a big orange zesty flavor. Feeling we were missing on the buzz of conversation in the bar area, as soon as a stool became vacant we moved and then the conversation began to flow, next up was the crisp and refreshing Smiske Extra 7% by Smisje Brewery and De Leite Brewery's Femme Fatale 6.5%, blonde in colour with a touch of fruit and spice. We could have easily stayed for several more, but as our time was limited we left to further explore Bruges' streets.

De Halve Maan Brewery
The next morning after a healthy breakfast we headed out on the tourist trail again, walking around the Beguinage before our tour of the De Halve Maan Brewery. De Halve Maan is the only remaining brewery left in the city, although it now has a state of art maturation unit just out of the city walls. The tour lasted about an hour as our guide took us on a meandering route through the brewery, navigating steep ladders and narrow passages across it's four floors, up to the roof with its outstanding panoramic views and back to the old cooperage.
The tour completes with a complimentary glass of unpasteurized Brugse Zot 6%. Wonderfully crisp and fruity whilst not overly bitter a perfect refreshing beer for the surroundings. Enjoying the sun in the beautiful courtyard, Christine suggested we share a bottle of Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel 11% with a deep brown/black colour and tasting of sweet malt of dried fruit and port. For such a strong beer this went down all too easy in the spring sunshine.

We spent the afternoon taking in the good weather and took the obligatory canal tour of the city before stopping for an afternoon tipple (or should that be Tripple) in De Garre. Tucked down a small ally of the same name it's hidden from the majority of tourists but well known enough for a beer tourist to find. Although saying that we must have walked past 2 or 3 times without noticing. When we arrived the bar was already fairly full and we were signaled us to the second floor, without looking at the menu I knew what to order: De Garre Tripple 11%. Served in a beautiful bulbous glass alongside a small portion of Gouda cheese you could be mistaken that you've been served your beer short thanks to the huge white creamy head that clearly outweighing is liquid underneath. However good things comes to those who wait as its soon subsides leaving you with a wonderfully smooth beer that hides its strength all to well. We spent a while in De Garre listening to the classic soundtrack playing in the background whilst watching the waiters come and go with trays of beers.

De Kelk
Later that evening and after much persuasion from Christine we headed to De Kelk, about a 10 minute walk from the main squares. I'll admit I was a bit dejected when we walked in to the empty bar, having enjoyed the bustle of the previous bars, but Jeroen the owner was attentive and quickly began to recommend us some of the 100's of beers available including delights from De Struise and De Molen. With this in mind I chose a De Struise Pannepot 10% based on an Old Fisherman's Ale, brewed with spices. This was a suburb dark ale with deep fruit flavours. Christine took the chance to try another dark beer in the form of Delirium Nocturnum 8.5%. Gradually the bar began to fill up and a chap next to us at the bar ordered both Duvel 2012 & 2013 Triple Hop 9.5% encouraging us to try them both and comparing the differing tastes. To me the 2012 was delicious, which wasn't surprising considering it was hopped with Citra, where as the 2013 was slightly more spicy having been dry hopped with Sorachi Ace. The next beer was the prize of the trip, bought for us by another couple in the bar and after an odd conversation and toast to Margaret Thatcher! "Boon to be Wild" aka Boon's Foeder #10 - 10% aged in a 1800's German wine foeder. With its acquired taste of tart fruit and sour flavour this ended up being the perfect traditional Belgian beer to complete our trip. And so with the midnight hour soon approaching we decided to make a quick dash to Cafe Rose Red back in the center of town only to see the last patrons leaving and the owner shutting up. With that our trip to Bruges drew to a close, I'm sure we'll be be back though! Bruges is such a beautiful city and we both fell in love with the lazy cafe culture and great beers on offer.

We stayed here: La Maison Zenasni B&B
Getting to Bruges: to Brussels by Eurostar