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Beer In Bruges: Halve Maan Brewery, Brugse Zot Unfiltered, Straffe Hendrik Tripel and Quadrupel

August 17, 2011 4 comments

Brouwerij De Halve Maan (“The Half Moon Brewery”) is the only working commercial brewery in Bruges, “Brugge Tripel” actually being produced by Palm in Steenhuffel, near Brussels. Although the brewery building has a history dating back to at least the 1850s, it was closed in 2002 and reopened by the Maes family in 2005, owing to a complicated corporate backstory involving Liefmans and Duvel Moortgat that I still don’t quite fully understand.

I’d tried Halve Maan’s flagship beer Brugse Zot (dating back only to the reopening in 2005) in Mr Foleys in Leeds, and had found it to be a pleasantly drinkable Belgian blonde, but not massively interesting. We decided to do the tour based on personal recommendations and the fact that it was good value at only €6 with a free beer thrown in. In fact it turned our to be really quite lively, funny and refreshingly lacking in the bullshit and myth-peddling that guided tours tend towards.

The excellent guide – a lady with the energy and no-nonsense attitude of a hockey coach – ran us up and down the stairwells of the old brewery like it was The Crystal Maze, explaining its history (much of the building is no longer in working use) and the wonders and pitfalls of beer. During the tour we were also taken out onto the roof of the brewery, which allows for interesting views across the rooftops of the city.

After the tour we sat down to lunch in the brewery tap. There’s a nice courtyard outside but we moved in as it was a bit showery. I enjoyed a rich Flemish beef and beer carbonnade/stew which came with chips, whilst Kate had an interesting beer and vegetable soup. We also tried a couple of beers.

At the brewery they sell an exclusive unfiltered version of the blonde Brugse Zot (6% ABV) and you get a free glass of it at the end of the tour. I was aware from the tour that it contained coriander and used four different hops including East Kent Goldings and Saaz. Nicely cloudy in appearance, it’s a pleasant and easy-drinking beer with a refreshing taste including coriander and orange peel.

Next I tried Straffe Hendrik Tripel. This brand, originally produced at the Brewery in 1981, was bought back from Duvel Moortgaat by the present owners in 2008. This 9% tripel had a pleasant orangey-gold colour a fairly typical Belgian yeasty smell with an enjoyable orange and reasonably hoppy taste, although I should note that the bottle was quite cold.

On the final afternoon of the holiday we went back to the Brewery for convenience, as it was only around the corner from our hotel from where we were about to get a coach back to the Eurostar station at Lille and, unlike a lot of other bars, it was open on a Tuesday afternoon. I had a Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel, a relatively new beer that, as the guide had previously explained, was produced following demand from their American importers.

It was slightly cola-coloured, although more brown than red around the edges. Again the bottle from the fridge was really quite cold and fizzy and it improved greatly on being left to warm up a bit. After doing so it had a nice chocolatey sweetness and a slightly licquorice bitterness. It remained very easy to drink for its strength (11% ABV) but made for an enjoyable, slightly vinous beer that went very well with some nice dark chocolate we’d just bought from The Chocolate Line.

I would strongly recommend the Halve Maan brewery tour to anyone visiting Bruges (so long as they can cope with the steps) and their beers are very enjoyable as well. I’d also prescribe the quad to help you nod off on a coach journey, but it does carry the risk of spending your remaining Euros on a Christmas tree decoration which looks like a sparkly gherkin.

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Beer In Bruges: Café Vlissinghe and Poperings Hommel Bier

August 12, 2011 2 comments

The second bar Kate and I went to on our first evening in Bruges was Vlissinghe. We fancied something simple and unfussy for dinner on a busy Saturday night, and this out of the way place seemed like a good option when the city centre cafes were packed.

I’d read about Vlissinghe in Around Bruges In 80 Beers, an invaluable book for anyone visiting the city.  It’s a very old building and has been a cafe or tavern continuously since 1515. Allegedly Rubens once painted a coin on the table and scarpered without paying.

The decor certainly looks the part, with a high ceiling and a collection of oil paintings and sepia-tinted photo portraits on the walls. In the centre of the room is a fireplace covered in irons. There were a number of big dark wood tables.  We sat at a table with a group of Greek and English people, who we thought might be academics or civil servants.

There’s a good if not remarkable beer list and I chose a Poperings Hommel Bier as suggested by the book. I’ve had this before, delivering a nice intensity of floral hoppiness but in a clearly Belgian way with a noticeable yeast flavour. Kate, who is more wary of Belgian beer, opted for a Brugse Zot, on which I will expand in a future post.

The food was good too, and quite reasonably priced. I had a traditional Flemish dish of chicory wrapped in ham and baked in a cheese sauce (chicory is a big thing in Belgium, apparently), whilst Kate enjoyed a white onion soup. For dessert she had pancakes and I had an apple tart.

I wouldn’t say that Vlissinghe is a must-visit beer destination in Bruges, but it is friendly, laid back and out of the way. To a tourist at least, it gives you a nice sense of history, like having a beer inside a folk museum or a van Eyck painting.

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