We had a long weekend in Bruges a bit back. Bruges is as beautiful as you’ve heard it is, and very nearly as beautiful as it looks in the film (and if you haven’t seen the film, do yourself a favour and seek it out pronto). The beer was pretty good, too. Here are the tasting notes I jotted down on my iPod, with added commentary.
Brugse tripel (Palm)
This was at a bar called De Gilde in Oude Burg, a street which seemed to be on the way to (or back from) most places we went – we walked down it about three times every day. I ordered it under the impression it was a local beer (what with the name) & was disappointed to find it was one of Palm’s. It was fine, though.
Leffe Radieuse: fruity, surprisingly hoppy
There were a few Leffes we don’t get over here. Radieuse is marketed as “Leffe goes hoppy”, and it was, a bit. I had this with dinner the first night. Mmm, Flemish beef stew.
The next few are from what’s probably my favourite bar of the trip, ‘t Brugs Bieratelier. (Thanks to Chris M for tipping me off to this – although, as it was two doors down from our hotel, I probably would have found my way there eventually.) The Bieratelier specialises in draught – which is to say, keg – as distinct from the massive bottle menus offered by most places. I had two lots of three small beers – 100 ml? 200? I’ve no idea how much I was actually getting, which is a disadvantage of beer from the tap – at least, it is in a country which hasn’t gone through the kind of standardisation we take for granted in the UK. Anyway, you got three beers for €8 (plus complementary peanuts) which was basically fine by me. It was a quiet, laid-back weekday late night, which meant there were only a handful of English people ordering pints of lager (in English) and only one stag party (from Holland). But, in all seriousness, it was a quiet, laid-back place – the atmosphere was so relaxed that it seemed to soak up the rowdier elements without being affected by them. The quiet soundtrack of Dylan album tracks may have helped.
Anyway, here are my six beers:
Fort Lapin: pale and interesting
St Bernardus: mmm
Gouden Carolus dubbel
Timmermans lambic: aargh!
Novice black tripel (???): extra f’in ordinary
Fort Lapin (“strong rabbit”?) was a new name to me; their tripel was rather nice & a few steps away from the usual “pale, strong, a bit fruity, a bit herby” template. There were hops there, I’ll be bound. I’ve been slightly sniffy about St Bernardus before, what with them not being Trappists, but the dubbel was extraordinary (it knocked the Gouden Carolus into a cocked hat). Not as extraordinary as Landtsheer Novice “black tripel”, though. It was basically what you’d get if you spliced the genetic material of a tripel with a black IPA. Very hoppy, very roasty, very Belgian – quite unusual!
As for the lambic, I have drunk it before – some years ago, when the relative strength of the pound made Belgian imports a regular buy – but it was a bit of a shock to the system coming in among those dubbels and tripels. I think getting properly into lambic would take an evening of its own, or possibly a trip of its own. The barman saw the face I made after my first swallow and apologised – “It’s not very sour, is it? That’s the only lambic we can get in a keg – the good ones are only available in bottle.” Let’s just say that the problem I’d had with it wasn’t a lack of sourness.
The next day we stopped around 12.00 for a portion of chips (with mayonnaise), accompanied by
Hoegaarden inna can
for about 50p. (The Belgians never got the memo about minimum pricing.) Having noticed a distinct groundswell of English people ordering in English, I was determined to use what little Flemish I had. (Belgium is bilingual, but Bruges – which we should call Brugge really – is deep in Flanders; French is about as useful there as Spanish.) “Drie groote frites, alstublieft”, I said to the guy behind the counter. “Three large chips – what would you like on those?” he replied, not missing a beat.
We stopped for a proper lunch later on, with a
for what that’s worth. That night we had an Italian meal at a rather fine restaurant called La Riva del Sole (very nice zabaglione); I know I had something with it, but what it was, my iPod and I cannot tell you.
Another late-evening outing took me to De Garre. Among others, Beersay‘s writeup had raised my expectations somewhat:
Dating back to the 1700′s, De Garre is one of those places where the gentle atmosphere and ambience has your mind wondering how many people have sat here before you. What joys, tragedies, laughter, crimes or drunken buffoonery have these four walls witnessed in their lifetime?
The Tripel arrived in two large goldfish bowl like glasses, with the thick white creamy head massively outweighing the liquid content by about three parts to one, there being only approximately three quarters of an inch of beer sitting at the base. Either by sensing our unconscious looks of disappointment or by the daily experiences of newcomers to his bar, the barman softly whispered “wait, it will come”.
Each tray of beer is served with a small portion of chopped cheese, which I’m led to believe is a compatible match for most Belgian beer, it was soft, creamy and when finally, patience rewarded we got to taste the Garre Tripel went perfectly with the beer.
Here’s my writeup:
De Garre tripel: not brilliant and much too strong
I arrived to find a tiny and brightly-lit bar with every table taken. (No standing at the bar in Belgian bars.) The barman caught my eye, held up one finger and pointed upstairs, then shouted something indistinct which I (correctly) interpreted as “you want the Tripel?” Upstairs was a slightly larger but even more brightly-lit bar with every table taken but one, right in the far corner, directly under a couple of halogen lamps. I manoeuvred the furniture around until I could get behind the table. The barman brought my drink. (It came with peanuts, and soft whispering was not involved.) I tried to concentrate on (a) my beer and (b) my paper but found I was fighting a losing battle with (c) the glare and (d) the noise of what appeared to be 300 English and American beer geeks having animated conversations all around me (“as for what I’m thinking, nobody has the RIGHT to censor what’s in my MIND…“.) I got to the bottom of the glass sooner than I expected and looked up to see the barman standing over me. “ANOTHER!” he enquired. I shook my head and got my purse out. And that was about it for De Garre. As for the beer, it was a very heavy tripel; it would have been pretty nice but for an unpleasantly strong flavour of alcohol. Basically it tasted like a tripel which had had a tequila dropped in it. I was seriously considering going into the Bier Bistro on Oude Burg on the way home for something more palatable in a more relaxed atmosphere, but the atmosphere that night was a bit too relaxed – by the time I passed it was shut.
There wasn’t any daytime drinking the next day. In the evening I had the bright idea of going out before dinner instead of last thing at night, and found my way to bar #2 on my hitlist: ‘t Brugs Beertje. It was rammed – so much so that I had to share a table – and absolutely everyone was speaking English, but somehow the atmosphere was much more laid-back than it had been in De Garre. And the beer was great.
Pannepot: a vision of Virol loveliness
Orval (young): interesting but too young
That’s De Struise Pannepot, De Struise being a newish local brewer (est’d 2001). I’m not sure how you’d classify Pannepot: it’s very dark, very strong and made with spices. Possibly a Quadrupel? It was very nice indeed, whatever it was. Very malty, as my tasting notes suggest (Virol was a ‘malt extract’ given to babies; I was once found, aged two or three, eating it out of the jar). As for the Orval, the Beertje will serve you a young Orval for €2 or one that’s been aged in the bottle for six months for €2.50. I guessed, rightly as it turned out, that the ‘aged’ variety would be what I’d had before, and ordered the ‘young’. It was… interesting. Much lighter than the Orval we know and love (although presumably it’s just as strong); I was reminded of ginger beer. I wish I could have followed it with an ‘aged’ bottle, to compare and contrast, but I had to get back to base camp.
That evening we ate at a really superb restaurant called De Schilder, where (with my rabbit) I had a
Bourgogne des Flandres: good but too light (5%) for its fruitiness
and followed it with a
Westmalle tripel: stern but beautiful
Can’t improve on that, except to say that drinking a Westmalle tripel out of a Westmalle glass really does feel special.
Lastly, with a sandwich lunch on the final day, I had a
Brugse Zot: light, refreshing, aromatic 6%er
Regrets, I’ve got a few. I didn’t get around to the Halve Maan brewery tour, which famously concludes with a freebie Zot; I didn’t get to the Bier Bistro, Cambrinus, the Café Rose Red or the Trappiste; and, of course, I barely scratched the surface at ‘t Brugs Beertje. My son, who recently turned 18, was less enthusiastic about the drinking than I’d hoped; he’s decided he’s into cider, which wasn’t a big feature of the local bars. Another time.
Also, beers – I’ve got a few of them, too. There are tourist-oriented bottle shops all over Bruges; in one of them I saw, and declined to buy, all three of the Westvleteren beers (semi-illegal and at ridiculous markups). But really there are only three places to buy beer, and two of them are supermarkets. Here’s my till receipt from the Carrefour near our hotel.
“Leeggoed” = bottle deposit; in effect everything came out 10c dearer than it looked (or 50c in a few cases, such as Delirium Tremens). But the selection was frankly extraordinary, and the prices were mind-boggling. That €1.09 for Westmalle Dubbel isn’t unusual; the Rocheforts and the Duvel (Tripel Hop) were the pricey ones. (And the prices went down if you bought a six-pack. Six-packs of Trappist beers in the equivalent of Tesco Express – what a country!) The bottle shops were all selling these same beers for €2.50 and €3.50; they could actually stock up in Carrefour and still make a profit.
As for the third place to buy beer, it’s called the Bierpaleis or Beer Palace, and it puts the rest of the bottle shops to shame. It was there that I bought a couple of Fort Lapins (tripel and quadrupel) as well as the find of the trip, a big bottle of Mont des Cats – the Trappist beer that isn’t (it’s brewed by Trappist monks, but on the Chimay brewkit rather than within their own abbey). In all I came home with nine bottles, of which I’ve drunk two (the Westmalle and the Tripel Hop); they didn’t disappoint. I’m looking forward to working my way through the rest. Also looking forward to another trip to Bruges…