One of the finest, old, beer-drinking cities, there’s much to love about a long weekend spent strolling the cobbled streets of Bruges.
The city’s most famous beer bar is ’t Brugs Beertje (Kemelstraat 5, 8000 Bruges). Meaning “Bruges’s Little Bear,” this bar has been the goto for beer lovers for over 30 years. It’s a charming and busy little bar with around 300 beers to choose from. You might go for the beer, but you’ll probably stay for the atmosphere.
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With De Garre, the first challenge is finding it. The second is finding a space to sit down. The third is leaving without falling over because their house Tripel is a formidable beer. Although though they have over 100 beers, you’ll want to order their house beer first. It comes in a unique thick-stemmed glass; it’s deep gold with a fat white foam; it’s rich with malt, yeast, and hops; and it’s 11.0% ABV. It’s definitely a must-drink beer in the city, made better by the setting and the way in which it’s served to you, which includes that great glass and a small bowl of cheese cubes. The address—simple, it’s De Garre 1—is unhelpfully vague. Basically walk off the Grote Markt, down Briedelstraat, then look to the right for a tiny alleyway—it’s down there.
Café Vlissinghe (Blekersstraat 2, 8000 Bruges) is Bruges’s oldest pub— it celebrated its 500th birthday in 2015—and it’s in the nice, quiet part of town to the north, near the canals and away from the crowds. In winter there’s a stove to heat the place and there’s a shaded garden in summer. The beer menu isn’t extensive, but it’s good; the food is home-cooked, with salads, sandwiches, and spaghetti, and it’s all made excellent by the convivial surroundings of this old bar. It’s simple and simply great.
Le Trappiste (Kuipersstraat 33, 8000 Bruges) is a busy, atmospheric underground bar with characterful cloistered walls and a large beer list, including some rare and wonderful things on tap, plus some hop-forward beer and a lot of bottles. It’s dark, cozy, and hidden away, with flickering candlelight so you can read the menu. The dark alcoves make you want to hide down there for hours.
For such a well-known beer city, there are only two breweries in the center—and one of these only properly opened at the end of 2015. Both should be on your list to visit. The oldest is The Halve Maan, meaning “The Half Moon” (Walplein 26, 8000 Bruges). There they brew Brugse Zot (too many of these and you’ll also turn into a “Bruges Fool”), the Straffe Hendrik Tripel, and Quadruple. The brewery tour takes you around the cramped old location, up onto the roof for a great view of the city, and then down into the old decommissioned brewery. At the end of the tour you’ll get an unfiltered blond Brug’se Zot. The Halve Maan is also notable for having built a 2-mile (3-km) beer pipe under the city, which runs from the brewery to a separate conditioning and packaging building.
The new brewery in town is Bourgogne des Flandres (Kartuizerinnenstraat 6, 8000 Bruges). This is one of the slickest tours and set-ups you’ll find, clearly designed with visitors in mind; it’s engaging and interactive, with some nice touches such as a glass-floor over the conditioning tanks and their open fermenters. The beer is produced in an unusual way to give something like a traditional Flemish Red or Brown: they brew Den Bruinen Os (“The Brown Ox”) as a strong, sweetish dark beer, which is then blended (roughly 50/50) with young Lambic that they get from Timmermans Brewery. This creates a pleasingly fruity, sweet-sour cherry, apple, and plum-like beer. It’s especially good with the huge croques that they serve in the brewery restaurant. If you can, and it’s sunny, sit by the canal out the back.
For more information, and a general guide to the city, its beers, bars, restaurants, and sights, go to www.visitflanders.be.
De Garre’s charm lies in its great atmosphere and even better beer.
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The entrance to the Delirium Café