In the company of the two best available Belgian beer books, the Good Beer Guide Belgium and Around Bruges in 80 Beers, two of us recently used a BeerJunkets Bruges Beer Festival package to visit Belgium for a long-weekend.
We first visited Bruges in 2009, finding an earlier edition of Around Bruges an essential companion. Ten years later brought this, my third visit. The latest edition includes many changes from the version utilised a decade ago. At that time, Bruges had the single brewery, Halve Maan. There are now an additional two, both offering visits, shop and bar.
Fort Lapin, over a mile from the Belfort, is normally only open to the public on Saturdays. On my early-morning visit, I was given a personal guided tour by the brewer and co-owner, Kristoff Vandenbussche. A range of high-quality bottle conditioned beers are available, all bottled on-site. There is also a small cosy on-site sampling room. Hoplapin, a 6% hibiscus-infused hoppy blonde, proved an excellent way to start the day.
By contrast, Bourgogne des Flandres Brewery, opened in 2016, part of the long-established Timmermans (Martins) empire, is very tourist-orientated. There is both a large shop and café, lots of staff, upmarket food options (for example, Black Tiger Scampi at €16.60) and a large range of beer, the latter including a tasting tray of 12 cl of six different beers at €14. Adjacent to a canal and close to the Belfort, the brewery tour includes technological assistance and many links to historical references. Their main brew is the base for the 5% Bourgogne des Flandres red ale. This base is later blended with a Timmermans lambic. They also brew experimental beers, some of which were available in both the café and at Bruges Beer Festival: at the latter, one Primeur was Nikita, a 9.5% imperial porter.
The 2019 festival utilised three adjacent venues: two large marquees (in the Burg and the Markt) and part of the Belfort building. Opening from 12:00 until 22:00 on the Saturday and 11:00 until 20:00 on the Sunday, over 70 brewery bars provided well over 500 beers. These ranged from the well-known to more than 70 which were described as either ‘niew’ or ‘primeur’. Among many others, Dominator’s Potion II, a 12% whisky-barrelled stout from D’Oude Maalderij was appreciated. The rumour for 2020 is that the festival will be moving across town to t’Zand.
On the Sunday, the sun came out, so we made use of the train to Ostend and then the coast tram, the kussttram. The 67 km route runs from Knokke in the north to De Panne, on the border with France. A day ticket (€7) took us to Middelkerke, De Haan, Blankenberge and the new Jus de Mer Brewery. Recommendations include: Herman (Blankenberge), Zeeduif (De Haan) and Iceberg (Middelkerke). The latter had both Val-Dieu Tripel (9.0%) and background music which included an excellent Flemish cover of ‘Ride a White Swan’ (remember T.Rex).
We also visited several bars in Bruges, including, an old favourite, t’Brugs Beertje. Here, a new house beer, Hazy Daisy (8.0%) brewed by Belgian micro, Siphon was available. This is named after Daisy Claeys, the long-time owner, who retired at the end of 2016. It was created in 2018 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of this internationally-known institution.
Other Bruges bars visited included De Garre (10.5% house tripel from Van Steenberge), Rose Red (lots of red roses and possibly the best lambic selection in the city, also De Dolle Dulle Teve Tripel at 10.0%) and Zandloper, the first bar off the train: Sint-Bernardus Abt12 (10.5%).
In short, Belgium never disappoints – just don’t forget the essential reference material!
Pollard, C. and McGinn, S. (3rd edition, 2013) Around Bruges in 80 Beers. Cogan & Mater
Strange, J. and Webb, T. (8th edition, 2018) CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide Belgium. CAMRA Books.