Sunday, 17 October 2010

The beer of Brugge and the Garden of Earthly Delights.

Its amazing to think that some people - Little Englanders? - perceive Belgium as 'boring'. Sure, its a bit flat. But any country that can produce the maniacal genius of Hieronymus Bosch, the beauty of Bruges/ Brugge and the sheer quantity of quality beers is worth respect. Being good at empire building aint cool no more.

Apart from being visually stunning, Brugge has its own Whiskyhuis. I was mildly disappointed that this turned out to be a shop and not a bar but it does sell sample drams at reasonable prices. For 2 Euros, you can try the likes of BenRiach Curiositas or the rum finish as well as many standard malts. For a little more, you can have a 26yo Glenesk or a choice from two Littlemills if closed distilleries interest you. There's a Berry Bros Caol Ila and cask strength miniatures from Arran. I understand that tastings are arranged so keep on eye on their website if you plan to visit and want to taste more than beer.

The beers though are stupendous. I didn't see any Stella Artois in Brugge though other well kent names like Leffe and Hoegarden are so ubiquitous here that they sell it in cans for peanuts. I managed to sample 6 or 7 beers during my stay - three nights aint enough - and the pick of the bunch has to be the typically trappist Achel Bruin which comes in at the relatively light 8%. A thick creamy head lies on a dark brew and gives the drink the appearance of a Gaelic Coffee. The taste though is superb - apple pie with molasses and yet more apples.

The local beer comes from the Halve Maan brewery of which the Brugse Zot is the most widely found. Their best though has to be the Straffe Hendrik Brugs Tripel Bier at 9%. Not to be confused with this is the similarly delicious Brugge Tripel - available in pubs and late night supermarkets. The best option though is to visit the legendary Café 't Brugs Beertje - a cosy wee place that stocks 300 or more beers. On the wall here is a framed memorial to whisky and beer writer Michael Jackson. Another wee howff is the hard to find De Garre. It lies at the end of a tiny narrow close off the street that connects the main Markt square to the Burg. Its well worth tracking down and the house beer of the same name is another dark and strong beauty. I didn't dare ask for the strength. They also serve 'tapas' of cheese in this ancient looking tavern.

Brugge is a gem of a place and well worth a visit. A weekend isn't enough as there's more than enough streets, bars and cafes to keep you entertained if the museums don't get you. If Brugge gets too much, hire a bike and head to the nearby Damme with its own selection of bars. Have a Westmalle Dunkel at 9% and hope that the canal doesn't get you on the return journey.

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