Bruges: paradise just got better
Added: Monday, January 19th 2015
Bruges in Belgium has long been known as beer paradise, with many fine bars, including one of the world’s greatest watering holes, Brugs Beertje, where Daisy Claeys serves more than 300 beers and not a drop of lager.
Can you improve on paradise? Arguably yes, for Bruges now has a beer museum that underscores the importance of brewing to both the city and further afield. If you’re preparing to go the Bruges Beer Festival, 7-8 February, or visiting the city at another date, the museum is a “must visit” for beer lovers.
The museum opened in July 2014 and is well-placed on the corner of the main square, the Grote Markt, and Breidelstraat. It’s based in part of a large post office and is directly opposite the Belfry, the medieval tower that’s one of the major tourist attractions in the city.
The museum was the brainchild of two close friends, Thibault Bekaert and Emmanuel Maertens. The spacious building has exhibits over three floors and informs visitors about the history of brewing, beer’s world-wide importance and the unique character of Belgian beer. The floors up to the various rooms are lined with old advertising posters for beer from a variety of countries while a vast collection of bottles covers beer styles from all over the world.
The exhibition is interactive. Visitors are given a mini I-pad and headphones. You point the pad at a chosen exhibit and you’re given the option to “read”, “see” or “hear”.
The third floor is of greatest interest as it’s dominated by several giant wooden “foudres” or oak ageing vessels from the Rodenbach brewery in Roeselare, famous for its “sour red ales”. Visitors can walk in to the vessels to admire their impressive size and see samples of the key ingredients used in brewing: malt, hops, yeast and water.
This floors also houses old brewing equipment, including an ancient bottling machine, and there are paintings depicting all the Trappist monasteries that brew beer.
From this floor a sign points down to the Tasting Room (below), a spacious and attractive bar with a large range of bottled beer and 16 on draught. The draught beers include beers from Palm, Belgium’s biggest ale brewery that has recently installed a new micro plant for short run, speciality beers. Visitors can sample Palm Cornet, an 8.5% oak-aged blond beer with vanilla, oak and spice on aroma and palate. Other draught beers include a Rodenbach Foerderbier an unblended version of the beer that’s exceptionally sour, and Oud Lambiek from Frank Boon, one of Belgium’s most prestigious brewers of beer made by spontaneous fermentation.
*The museum is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. For rates and further information see: www.brugesbeermuseum.com.
Beer also makes its mark in the visitor attraction, the Historium, that’s just a few metres from the Beer Museum at 1 Grote Markt. The Historium celebrates the history of a city that’s now a Unesco World Heritage Site and is based in the former Waterhalle, an indoor harbour. As visitors move from room to room they are taken through an interactive tour of medieval Bruges at the time of the artist Jan Van Eyck. A terrace gives a panoramic view of the market square and the Belfry.
The museum is supported by the Duvel Moortgat brewing group and visitors can end their tour with a visit to the splendid Art Nouveau Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe (top picture) to sample the 8.5% golden ale with its famous “Poire William” aroma and palate. Other Belgian beers are available and a Master of Beer conducts talks and tastings.
*For information on opening times and charges see: www.historium.be.
The most recent new opening in Bruges is the Finest Brewery Shop Bourgogne des Flandres at 4 Wollestraat, managed and owned by John Martins, the major importer of beer and owner of Timmermans, the oldest lambic brewer in the country. As well as lambic, Martins makes the famous Bourgogne des Flandres, a 5% brown beer that’s a blend of a warm-fermented ale and Timmermans’ lambic. The beer dates from the mid-18th century when it was brewed in Bruges by the Van Houtryve family. The ale is blended with lambic at Timmermans and then aged in wooden casks for several months. In the beer shop, large wooden vats built into the wall hold samples of the brown ale, lambic and the final blend: visitors can sample the three beers (pictured below). The shop also sells the extensive range of John Martin’s imported beers, including Gordon’s Scotch, Gordon’s Xmas, Guinness Export, John Martins IPA and John Martins Pale Ale.
Anthony Martin, a descendant of John Martin, who founded the business early in the 20th century, is preparing to bring brewing back to Bruges and a new Bourgogne des Flandres plant will open this year close to the beer shop.
Rose Red, 16 Cordoaeniersstraat, close to the Markt, now rivals Brugs Beertje with its exceptional range of beer. It opened in 2010 and is run by Kris Veireman and his family. Kris originally planned to sell just Trappist beers but he has branched out and now has beer list of around 150 that includes gueuze and Wallonian ales. His packed cellar includes casks and kegs where he ages a number of beers for a year or more. They can be sampled in the comfortable wood-panelled bar where plastic red roses decorate the ceiling. Five draught beers change weekly.
The bar is part of three houses that date from 1625. Next door to the bar at Number 16, the Cordoeanier is a hotel run by the Veireman family and offers excellent accommodation: visitors take breakfast in the bar. www.cordoeanier.be.
Other recommended Belgian bars include: @The Pub, 4 Hallestraat, Cambrinus, 19 Phillipstockstraat, Comptoir des Arts, 53 Vlamingstraat, Garre, 1 De Garre, Kelk, 69 Langestraat, Kuppe, 19 Kuipersstraat, Poatersgat, 82 Vlamingstraat, Poulin, 1 Havenstraat, and Trappist, 33 Kuiperssraat. Bruges Beertje, 5 Kemelstraat, with some 300 beers, must not be missed.
*Brugs Bierfestival is run by BAB – Brugse Autonome Bierproevers -- an independent section of Zythos, the Belgian beer drinkers’ movement. The 8th festival will be held on 7 and 8 February at the Beurshal: the festival has had to move from the Belfry as the medieval wooden building could be a fire hazard. This year, 79 brewers will be on show with 361 beers. Full details: www.brugsbierfestival.be.
Below: Rodenbach foudres in the Beer Museum.
Thanks to Thomas Vandelanotte of BAB, Visit Flanders and Visit Bruges