Bruges is, well how shall I put it? Crap…or so some movie lines would lead you to imagine. It is quite amusing that the locals actually use this as an alter ego motto of sorts…quite bizarre.
Long a favourite for chocoholics and alcoholics alike this buzzing Belgian burg is probably one of the most tempting spots in the low countries for plenty of reasons, not just the aforementioned beer and chocolate.
It has charming canals, evocative architecture, sumptuous restaurants and of course beer. Did I already mention that? Okay so this article is about beer, how to find it, how to drink it and importantly how to take some home with you.
Are you ready?
Belgium has over a million different beers, okay that is a little bit of an exaggeration; actually it is reckoned that they have over four hundred different types of the frothy stuff…arguments rage over the exact number…awesome. With so many different styles, flavours and strengths, each with its own special glass, it is a challenge to even come close to having a serious go at denting the list. Try though we would.
First of all you need to get there, I suggest avoiding a stopover Brussels at all costs save for a quick transit (apologies to any Eurocrat reading this…actually not really…I can’t abide the place). Eurostar from London can be a good way, any Belgian station tickets are a safe bet on their booking site and Eurolines ply their buses from Amsterdam and London. Sadly the ferry to Ostend is long gone so if you have a car the Eurotunnel to Calais is a good option; this of course has the advantage of being able to load the boot (trunk to our Atlantic cousins) full of delicious cases of beer.
Fine, you have arrived, now where to stay; safe, secure, budget, mid range or splurge, plenty of choice. A favourite of mine that covers two out of the price range is the Bauhaus, now owned by St Christopher’s Inns. A choice of dorms and clean privates is on offer plus the advantage of the terrific popular bar downstairs makes it a winner.
If money is not a factor then there are some great offerings with levels of service to suit. Be aware though that prices don’t always reflect the value you may expect so due diligence should be observed using well-respected advice websites or word of mouth.
Euros in hand and bags safely stashed it is time to gather your troops and head out in to battle.
To find out what you may be in for, a great start would be a brewery tour. You will not go wrong with De Halve Maan, brewers of the delightful Straffe Hendrik, in the centre of town. Any local will point you in the right direction. Following that wonderful introduction it will be time to test your knowledge in the real world.
A great beer institution, the café Brugs Beerjte, is tucked away in a side street Kemelsraat just off of Steenstraat. It is closed on Wednesdays so plan accordingly. An astonishing number of beers are on offer here and although it may seem packed to the rafters persevere to the back rooms where benches are set out, or to the garden in summer.
To counter the effects of the beer there are cheese and meat plates available but if you are ravenous I suggest nipping into The Hobbit restaurant opposite, they have all you can eat ribs and a secret sauce…I dare you.
Yet another great bar, tucked away in a tiny alley off the Burg is Staminee De Garre, again ask for directions. With great house beer having a distinctive flavour this is a justly popular locale, if no tables are free you will be invited to come back later so perhaps get here early and snap up a cosy spot near the ancient stove if it is cold outside.
On the same street as the Bauhaus hostel, Langestraat, you can find the curious De Kelk. The owner is a mine of information on local beers and is proud of his well-kept cellar. He stores many unusual brews and I would suggest going with some of his suggestions especially if he has some of the hard to get Westvleteren Trappist from Saint Sixtus.
For a music inspired addition, and much in favour with the younger crowd, ‘t Poatersgat is a cellar dive with a diverse selection of non-commercial beers, a scattering of sofas and tables, free Wi-Fi and a lively clientele, try the Cuvee Van De Keizer, it will knock your socks off!
If you are going to take back some of the brews make sure you get the matching glasses. Cheapest places to buy are the bigger supermarkets, handy if you have a car. Failing that, and for some inspiration, take a visit to 2Be Bruges in Wallestraat with its famous beer wall and party packs of beer.
Have a great time, drink responsibly and if you have some extra time apparently there are some interesting buildings … who knew?