WDT 2011 – Report from Brugge (Bruges)

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Sep 24th, 2011
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If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me.  But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.

Or so one of the characters from the movie “In Bruges” famously said.

't Brugs Beertje (photo from 2001)

I hadn’t been back to Brugge (the proper Flemish name for the town) since well before the release of that movie, so I was curious to see how things had changed.  We had always had fun in Brugge in the past, but it was basically a one decent bar town.  Plenty of good places to eat … the best fish soup in the world … but only one world class bar, ‘t Brugs Beertje.

Now that said, ‘t Brugs Beertje is one of the best beer bars in the world.  In fact, it’s legendary.

But it’s closed on Wednesdays.

And guess what day we rolled into town?

Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel

Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel

I knew that when I was planning the itinerary for this year’s trip.  But we had to take the chance that Brugge was more than ‘t Brugs Beertje.  And we also had to at least see a canal.  My friend ColaniAL has probably been to Brugge 6 or 7 times and had yet to see a canal.  That’s mainly because there weren’t any on the path between the Hotel Acacia and ‘t Brugs Beertje, which was the only sightseeing we had done on any of those trips.

I’m happy to report that Brugge now has at least 2 additional world class beer bars, and a scattering of other fine establishments.

Moon over Brugge

Moon over Brugge

Our first afternoon started at Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan, the brewer of the Staffe Hendrik and Bruges Zot beers.  We were on a mission in search of Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel, one of the best new beers to be introduced in the past year.  R.A.B. has been enjoying it at the Lowlifer in London for the past few months, but for the rest of us, this was our first taste.

Brouwerij De Halve Maan

Brouwerij De Halve Maan

Wow!  While Staffe Hendrik Tripel is rather middle-of-the-road for its style, the Quadrupel just may define the standard against which all other quads will be compared.  Very impressive.  While I used to enjoy beers such as St. Bernadus Abt and Rochefort 10, it seems that lately they have been a bit too sweet for my taste.  The Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel is full of body, but there’s a hint of a scotch ale type of taste that comes across instead of the sweetness.  It might not be in quite the same class as Pannepot Reserva (we’ll get to that one when we get to the Brussels part of the trip), but it’s extremely drinkable.

We had our first two at De Halve Maan.  They have a nice outdoor courtyard which was just a couple of blocks away from Hotel Ibis Brugge Centrum, our new home in Brugge.

Cambrinus @ Cambrinus

Cambrinus @ Cambrinus

From there we went to Cambrinus, which is just off the market square.   Cambrinus is more of a restaurant than a bar, but we spent several hours at the bar, and eventually moved on to a table for dinner.  Cambrinus has a great beer selection.  We noticed some Westvleteren Blond behind the bar, and that was definitely one of the highlights.  (The Westvleteren 12 is the one that usually gets all the attention, but the Blond is a treat itself … I’d call it a Belgian Pale Ale, with a great well-balanced but crisp hop character.)

Westvleteren Blonde @ Cambrinus

Westvleteren Blonde @ Cambrinus

At the bar, we had met an English couple that was honeymooning in Brugge, and they had suggested we pay a visit to De Garre, so that was our next stop.  De Garre is a small bar down an even smaller alley way.  The alley has a name (De Garre), but we must have walked past it 3 or 4 times trying to follow our GPS before we finally noticed it.  The alley is more like a small doorway.

De Garre is a pleasant enough little bar … nice character to it.  They are best known for their contract brewed tripel.  I believe it is brewed by Van Steenberge, who brew Augustijn and Gulden Draak, among others.  I have to say it was a little sweet for my taste and I was happy to have a Westmalle Tripel after it to get the taste out of my mouth.  Oddly signs on the wall of De Garre proclaimed a three drink maximum of their Tripel, because of its strength.

't Poatersgat

't Poatersgat Cellar Entrance

From there, we headed toward Vlamingstraat, where we’d heard reports that there were two great newer beer bars … ‘t Poatersgat and Comptoir des Arts.

As we walked down Vlamingstraat, ‘t Poatersgat was the first one we found.  It was a little past midnight, and the cellar bar was packed … a good sign that this evening was not going to come to an early end.  The cellar at ‘t Poatersgat is big … it has high ceilings (for a cellar) … and though it was packed, we had no trouble finding a table.  Great beer selection.

As the hours past, our numbers dwindled, but we were impressed that at a little before 3am they were still happy to serve us at the bar.  Finally at about half past three, the bartender sent a couple of local guys over the table to tell us that it was time for them to close.  But thankfully our new tour guides were happy to show us what was still open in Bruges at that time.  Behind the market square, there were a couple of bars with loud club music playing, but thankfully they had outside tables and Bruges Zot, and we learned Belgian drinking games as we drank to the honor of Mr. Something-puff-puff-puff.

This was followed by an hour or so trying to find our way back to the hotel … who knew that Brugge was so big?

Thankfully breakfast was now being served since we were famished after walking 10 miles in circles.

Rodenbach Foederbier @ Zalm

Rodenbach Foederbier @ Zalm

For day 2, we took a train ride to Roeselare to pay visit to Cafe Zalm, the only place where you can get Rodenbach Foederbier.  We’re big fans of the Rodenbach Grand Cru, which is produced as a blend of aged and young batches of the delicious sour beer, so we had to try the Foederbier.

Foederbier is aged but not blended, and served unfiltered on cask.  It was pleasant enough … a nice afternoon drink.  Low cask carbonation and not nearly as sour as the Grand Cru.  I was hoping for more sourness and body, like the Rodenbach Vintage ales.  But I’m glad we tried it.

Our entertainment for the afternoon was a band filming a music video on the market square outside of Cafe Zalm.  After hearing dEUS perform the same song over and over again, a couple of us swore we’d track down the album … not necessarily because of the quality, but to improve our scores when playing Belgian Trivial Pursuit.  (Our knowledge of dEUS would impress Belgians later in the week.)

Comptoir des Arts

Comptoir des Arts Cellar Entrance

Back to Brugge, we attempted a visit ‘t Brugs Beertje … but if they don’t have their back room open (a question of how much staff is working), it’s a pretty small place.  A bartender suggested we take our group to Vlamingstraat … which of course we were very familiar with, so it was back to ‘t Poatersgat.

Buffalo Bitter

Because I'm from Buffalo...

Our group was fading quick, so at about 1am, the two of us left standing decided that we had to give the other Vlamingstraat bar a chance.  Comptoir des Arts was just about rightacross the street.  The beer selection was about the same, but the music was much better.  The two of us sat down at the bar, and had great conversation with the owner, Bram.  He worked for Daisy at ‘t Brugs Beertje for quite awhile, and he was a great host.  We had a great time talking about beer, music, and Las Vegas.  And I thank you Bram for convincing me to give Buffalo Bitter another try.  It had a lot of the same hop characteristics that I like about the Westvleteren Blond, just a bit more intense.  I must have had a skunked bottle the last time I tried it.

Comptoir des Arts is also great for their aged Orval.  You can get fresh Orval, year old Orval, or 3 year old Orval.  I must admit a weakness for aged Orval, so I know I’ll be returning.

Like ‘t Poatersgat, Comptoir des Arts stops serving around 3-ish.  According to our texting log from the day, our last communique of the evening was “4am frites. suck it.”  I can think of no better way to end a day’s drinking in Bruges.


Travel Guide Summary