Beer In Bruges: Erasmus, Viven Imperial IPA and De Dolle Bos Keun
This was a bit of an odd one. Erasmus was one of the places I’d read about a number of times before coming to Bruges and had been described as a must-visit. I understand that it’s a hotel that has had an exceptional beer bar for some years but which, over time, has become more of a restaurant.
We went in and took a window seat in the modern, minimalist restaurant when it was very quiet at around 3pm on a Sunday. However the beer list on the menu seemed oddly curtailed, with less than two dozen beers. I was very confused, not least because we were sitting by a window that boasted of the “200 artisan Belgian ales” (or similar) on offer.
After a slightly awkward (verging on cryptic, I thought) conversation, the gentleman serving us explained that, due to recent renovations, there wasn’t as much room in the cellar as there had been, so there simply wasn’t space to store all those beers any more. However he said that there was a small selection of interesting beers downstairs, although he didn’t have them on a list.
He then asked if there was anything we were looking for. “Christ,” I thought, “this guy clearly knows everything there is to know about beer and I’m obviously a tourist who knows bugger all squared about Belgian beers. He’s just asked me what beer I would like with no parameters whatsover. What can I say that isn’t going to make me look like an idiot?”
So I asked a question certain to make me look like an idiot; or if not an idiot certainly a dickhead: I asked if he had any Westvleteren. Apart from almost certainly mispronouncing it, I know you’re not supposed to be able to buy it anywhere other than the Abbey and visitor’s centre. However, I knew they were available in at least one other bar in Bruges, regardless of whether it’s ethically suspect and contrary to the wishes of the brewers themselves. He said that they couldn’t be bought anywhere, to such an extent that I suspected there might be a little glint in his eye. However, I respected his apparent honour and let the matter drop.
Instead I explained that Kate was quite keen on pale hoppy Belgian beers and I wondered what he had to that end. So we ended up with a Viven Imperial IPA and a De Dolle Bos Keun. The Viven is a beer that Phil Hardy had recommended and I really enjoyed it. It had a great mango aroma, a bitter but sweet fruity taste and a nice alcoholic warmth in the bitter finish.
However I should say that, for a Belgian beer, it tastes completely like a US double IPA. Whether that’s a good, bad or indifferent thing is debatable: I noticed that in all the superb beer bars I went to there were hardly any non-Belgian beers on offer. This speaks of a confident and diverse national brewing scene but surely it wouldn’t be at all out of place to put a few De Molen on the list? Or Mikkeller? Or Stone? After all, the US craft beer scene’s approach to ABV and sipping beers has more in common with the attitude of the Belgians, than to us British session drunkards.
The Bos Keun was a different kettle of hops. This 10% blonde ale had a lot of Belgian yeast character as well as a lot of hops. A nice bubblegummy aroma and a dusty, musty hoppiness came through, and the helpful barman warned us about the extensive sediment so we poured carefully. It was a great beer and one of those that helped convince Kate that she could really like Belgian beers over the course of the holiday. Luckily when we came back we found that Further North had a few left in the fridge so we could pretend to still be in Bruges.
So I found Erasmus a bit confusing really. The gentleman who served us, however inscrutable he seemed initially, clearly knew his stuff and was very helpful. However it’s not quite a warm and laid back place to enjoy a good beer. We didn’t eat there so maybe it’s simply more of a great beer restaurant than a beer cafe now, as the decor would suggest. If you’ve been recently, please let me know your thoughts.