Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Bruges: A Beer Lovers Guide (Part One!)

Guess what?! It was payday here at Vinspire Towers the other week, and what better way to splash all my hard-earned cash than to book a trip to the Beer capital of Europe for a self-titled 'Beer Pilgrimage'!
A very pretty beer geek, I may add...

I had heard all sorts of recommendations from people about Bruges, so to finish the summer and treat the missus before her intense final year at uni, it all fell in to place quite nicely. Plus, she is a full-blown beer geek like me! >>>> That's her.

Before we go any further, and to summarise; I BLOODY LOVE BRUGES. Here's how to get there, eat there and how to drink yourself around this pretty little city.

How to get there

One word, Eurostar. What a wonderful train. Incredibly fast, comfy, simple, and cost effective, its by far the easiest and quickest way to get to Belgium.

From our brilliant breakfast at La Pain Quotidian at St Pancras (Avocado on Toast and a glass of bubbles!) to Brussels took 2 hours and 12 minutes (Note: Do not copy me and try to hold your breath when you go under the channel, apparently you don't need to...)

A stroll across the platform lead us to our onward journey to Bruges, aboard not just a train, but a DOUBLE DECKER TRAIN!!!! :-O I was excited. Once in Bruges, hop on a bus in to the centre, which will set you back €2 and take 6 minutes. Grand total London to Bruges: 3 hours, 45 minutes, £89 return per person. Winning!

We stayed at La Pand hotel, slap bang in the centre. It's a little pricier, but you get what you pay for, and the service and rooms were amazing!


The Belgians like to eat. Fact. They bloody love Moules. Fact. And they love Frites. Fact. You will eat both. Fact.

However, if you are not familiar with a Flemish Beef Stew, change that the minute you arrive. Succulent stewed beef cooked in a Tripel beer sauce from the region. Amazeballs.


Ah yes, what I'm here to write about... Sorry for blabbering.

The beer in Bruges is the best in the world. These guys know what they're doing, and the hundreds of years of brewing traditions and perfection really show themselves in the diversity/complexity of the beers, how they celebrate each one and how the locals talk about it. It's magical, and I was in my element.

We started our visit with a trip to the famous Beer Wall; a tourist attraction with allegedly every Belgian beer on display, with it's glass. (Note: If you didn't know already, every Belgian beer has its own glass).

We opted for a flight of 4 of their draught beers, which was presented in a cardboard holder with some very welcome snacks and a little guide of what we were drinking.

This is a great little introduction to Belgian beer, and our flight consisted of a 6% Kriek (A naturally sweet-sour Lambic flavoured with Cherries), a 6.5% Saison (Belgian Farmhouse Wheat Beer), an 8% Dubbel (double the normal amount of Malt, and therefore stronger), and a 10.5% Tripel (triple the malt). A trip to Bruges is not complete without a trip to the Beer Wall.

After that we had a spot of lunch - Moules Frites obviously, cooked in the local beer 'Bruges Zot'. If you haven't had mussels cooked in beer before, you should. You just should.

After lunch we wandered through the pretty city streets bouncing off chocolate shops and bars tasting allsorts until we got to the Bruges Beer Museum.

The Beer Museum is a little tedious at the beginning if you know anything about beer (which you should by now if you read my blogs weekly...), but it picks up, and at the end you get 3 tokens for free beer! Hoorah, reward!

Suitably beered up, we wondered the city with the map upside down looking for a restaurant I had heard about.

Not just any restaurant mind, 'Cambrinus' is a Beer-Brasserie (lots of the dishes are cooked with beer as an ingredient). Double-hoorah!

We had delicious cheese and Tripel croquettes to start, and the aforementioned Flemmish Beef Stew for main. I wanted a Beer Creme Brulee for dessert, but by this time I was happy with a liquid dessert cocktail of more Beer and Mojitos.

Day 2 started with the most awesome waffle in the history of the world with strawberries, bananas, chocolate sauce & cream, accompanied by the best coffee I've ever had.

We hired bikes and ventured around the city. This is definitely the best way to explore Bruges! We crossed canals, through winding streets and ended up at not one, but FOUR massive windmills.

I'd heard about this place, but more importantly, I'd heard about the pub that faces it, aptly-named De Windmolen. A pretty little tavern, this is a 'locals' boozer, more in the style of a beer cafe. I had the recommended Pius X, a 10.5% monster of a beer. Adele chose the Hoegaarden Rose. It was fairly nice - fruity and bubbly. Perfect for the ladies, not for Adele. Adele likes real beer!

We stopped off at the Duvelorium at the Historium, a lovely Duvel-sponsored bar overlooking the main square with the giant clock tower (aka incredibly irittating clock tower that doesn't shut up with inaudible renditions of Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes and The Entertainer) where we shared another flight of beer while looking over the square and market, a great people-watching place.

None of this is to say that Belgium and Bruges doesn't have any other drinks to offer. They are big on their Gin and Genever (you can buy some Genever at The Whisky Exchange for £25.35), infusing lots of botanicals and spices into their G&Ts, and they have some pretty good wine to offer too. Think of Alsace Pinot Gris and the like.

What was refreshing was the lack of major commercial conglomerates; in the beer, the produce, the fast food restaurants etc; not a big brand in sight. A truly artisanal city. The produce shops and off-licences have a great range of craft spirits, absinthes and wines alongside their extensive list of beers.

Before we left, we sat at a beer cafe overlooking a grand corner of canal and architecture, indulged in some more beer and a coma-inducing mountain of cheese. I could quite happily do that in that spot for the rest of my days, with THIS VIEW!!!

If I HAD to find something wrong with Bruges, it would be that the beer is too good, and sometimes too strong. There were a couple of times I was looking down the list for something between 4 and 6%, without much joy. The other thing is that while the service from shopkeepers and bar staff was very good and knowledgable, the service in restaurants was generally poor and uninterested. 

I would love to go back, the time of year (September) was perfect -warm and dry. I would also LOVE to come at Christmas time; the architecture lends itself to the snow-capped building perfection of fairytales.

Part 2 of my Bruges pilgrimage (next week) will explore a tour of Bruges only city brewery, De Halve Maan, as well as the best beers I tried (and there was a LOT).

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