Bruges: Our Trip

Our Trip:

Concluding our beer-focused visit to Westvleteren and Oostvleteren (see Belgium, Part One), it was now time for our (again, beer-focused) short 45 minute journey to our final Destination of Bruges (i.e., Brugge in Flemish; Bruges in French and English).

By the time we left De Struise Brouwers in Oostvleteren, it was nearing 4 PM and the weather was becoming increasingly worse. The winds were picking up, and the light drizzle was turning into a heavy rain. We knew we had important business to accomplish in Bruges, and our time was dwindling away. Of the highest order of importance, our first mission was to reach the De Struise Brouwers Beer Shop in Bruges’ city center before it closed at 6 PM. You see, the brewery (in Oostvleteren) itself sold only a limited variety of their beers; only the specialty beer shop in Bruges could offer the bottles we were in search of, and they weren’t open the next day. The pressure was on.

By the time we (finally) found parking and gathered our things, it was nearly 5:45 PM. Our hotel didn’t have on-site parking, so we drove around somewhat chaotically until we eventually found a nearby parking garage. Anyway. We enthusiastically grabbed our overnight bag and our umbrellas and set out for our initial destination, a quick five minute walk away.

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Cold and wet from the rain, we could not be discouraged. We made it to the De Struise Brouwers Beer Shop just in the nick of time! Located near the Market Square, close to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the Beer Shop was still open in all of its glory. The tiny store was almost full of people, with a total of five bodies plus us inside. They proudly displayed the De Struise Brouwers’ beers on their shelves as well as a limited quantity of hard-to-find specialty beers from around Belgium and the Netherlands.

We hurriedly selected a (large) handful of beer to purchase. Whilst we were looking and paying for our beers, we were engaged in a conversation by a local couple who were enjoying some beers in the shop (you can purchase a beer and enjoy it in the store). They told us about their favorite beers and insisted we try theirs. Literally, I mean out of their decorative Belgian glasses. I tried to say, “No” two or three times; but, they were incredibly insistent. Crossing my fingers and hoping they didn’t have some weird contractible illnesses, I sampled their beers. They were right, the bubbly Belgian concoctions were delicious.

We stayed for a few minutes longer, collecting suggestions for establishments at which to eat and drink from the locals. It was then time to depart, many bottles of beer the richer. Our next destination would be to our hotel, a two-minute walk away, right off of the main Market Square.

Our hotel, the Hotel Koffieboontje (say that 10 times fast), was an old, privately run hotel in the perfect location. It certainly wasn’t anything fancy, but it was a great value ($99 USD/night) and was a place to sleep, and that’s all we really needed. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our belongings, and immediately set back out to explore all Bruges had to offer (or at least as much as we could discover in one night).20151114_181739

We started off our night by locating a tasty restaurant that I had read about online. Of course, like many foodies do, we examined other restaurants’ menus as well before committing to our final decision; however, this place still looked the very best. In a small and charming setting just off of the main Market Square was Den Amand. Run by a local couple and with limited seating, we were very lucky to score a table without a reservation.

Their menu consisted of both fusion and local cuisines. I opted for that night’s special, a Venison steak seared to medium-rare perfection, topped with a rich, chocolate, brown gravy sauce, and served with sweet and salty mashed potato “spring rolls” (which were crisped to perfection with a sugary coating), roasted carrots and onions, and field mushrooms. Oh, my, de-lic-ious. This meal was out-of-control. Weighing in a 25 euros (which was the same, if not less than all of the other mediocre looking tourist trap restaurants in the area), I gave this dish 5/5 stars. Beautiful. It also paired nicely with a sweet and spicy Maredsous brown Belgian ale.

Ryan ordered another major score: Chateau Briand. Again, this delicious meat was cooked perfectly and served with a side of seasonal vegetables, a pouch of green beans, a roasted tomato, and a handcrafted and succulent mushroom gravy. This dish also paired nicely with a Bourgogne Flanders’ ale, sweet and with hints of stone fruit.

Read more about Bruges’ local cuisine HERE.

Although I could have died happy after this meal paired with a day (already) full of drinking tasty beers, our night was just beginning. We set out into the rainy and windy trenches of Bruges. Ok, in reality we walked for 5 minutes, tops.

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More importantly, our next destination was to the Zwart Huis, one of the restaurants that was featured in the movie “In Bruges” (which we had obviously watched the night before). I had pictured a dive bar, but a dive bar it was not. The place had stained glass windows and a casually elegant feel. Packed with people, Ryan and I grabbed a spot at the bar and enjoyed a cup of liquid gold. I opted for the local Bruges Zot (a Belgian Blonde), and Ryan opted for a famously delicious Trappist beer, Chimay.

Next stop? Nearly next door. We were in search of a local Trappist bar hidden underground in an old cellar that was recommended to us by the locals we had met earlier. Le Trappiste Brugge was a delight. We found the popular joint down some stairs and into what still felt like an old cellar. The bar had hundreds of beers, approximately 30 of which were on tap. They offered flights of beer, so of course we ordered up a few of the most tempting choices. We enjoyed ourselves immensely at this unique establishment but decided it was time to wander to our next stop.

‘T Bruges was next. This famous pub also offered hundreds of beer choices including rare and hard to find beer options. The seemingly small spot was packed to the brim with every table full. We worked our way to the back and found there were multiple rooms with seating available. Luckily, we found ourselves a table in the back of the back room and ordered up a couple of wonderful beers. I had a Belgian Triple IPA and Ryan ordered a Coffee Quad, the Prearis Quadraccino (one of our new favorite beers of all time).

Sadly, the only picture we got here was of a page of their menu:

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It was now midnight. We had accomplished a lot in a little amount of time. It was time to go home; however, our night of tasting delicious Belgian bubbly led us to be quite hungry. Almost nowhere was open, not even McDonalds. Luckily, there were street vendors in the main square selling some mediocre (at best) fare. We opted for an apparently popular “Binky” burger, covered in some tangy, mayonnaise-based sauce, and some fries. It wasn’t good, but at least it was something.

Don’t forget to check out a list of our favorite local spots.

And then….. It was time for bed. ZZZZZZZZ.

The next morning, we arose feeling not-so-great; however, there was more to see and do! Luckily, our hotel offered a comprehensive and tasty continental breakfast which we enjoyed before heading out on the town.

Our first stop of the day had already been discussed from the night before. We would go to the most comprehensive beer shop in town, the Bottle Shop. It opened at 10 AM, so we were there at 9:58. The owner arrived 15 minutes late, but he arrived, and that’s all that mattered.

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For being such a well-known establishment, I had imagined the Bottle Shop would have felt touristy and inauthentic. This was not the case. We spoke with the owner (a knowledgeable, traditional, and somewhat cynical man) about beer for a very long time. He was excited to offer recommendations of his favorite beers and to openly and bluntly discuss his least favorite beers. We enjoyed our time at the Bottle Shop immensely and left with another (large) handful(s) (and bags and boxes) of world-renowned and beautifully crafted Belgian ales.

Just because it was so beautiful, I wanted to share some pictures with you from our journey from the Bottle Shop to the next destination:

Second stop of the day: Brouwerij De Halve Maan (i.e., The Half Moon Brewer). This famous Belgian brewery was the only brewery located in Bruges’ city center. With tours every hour, Ryan and I happily pranced into the brewery at 10:58, ready for our 11:00 tour.

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During the tour, we of course learned about the basics of beer brewing, but we also got to tour the old brewery and learn about the history of Bruges and Brouwerij De Halve Maan. This was the most informative, as we already knew our brewing basics.

The old brewery:

Their old fermentation tanks (this is where the yeast would go to work eating any sugars in the “wort” (beer minus yeast), turning the sugars into alcohol, and letting off CO2):

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The old wort chiller. They’d let the air from outside cool off the “wort” until it was at a temperature that the yeast could be added without being killed.

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The view from the top of the brewery:

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Concluding our tour, we were able to enjoy a pint of their famous Bruges Zot Blonde ale. It tasted extra delicious from the tap, as the brewery was the only place in the world where you could get the unpasteurized and freshest version of the famous brew. Fun fact: “Bruges Zot” translates in English to “the idiot of Bruges” referring to someone who is very drunk.

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Before departing the brewery, we stopped in their store and purchased three bottles of limited edition oak aged Straffe Hendrik beer in a special case. They will be well enjoyed.

Next, we headed back towards the Tower of Belfry (but not before stopping at another beer store to purchase more bottles). We really wanted to climb the tower, but neither of us were feeling very well, and we knew we had to depart the city soon to head back to where we were staying in Germany. Knowing we’d be back to this glorious city, we mutually decided to save the tower for next time.

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We wandered over to the Basilica of the Holy Blood and snapped a couple of pictures. It was closed when we were there; but again, that was okay, because we decided we’d save that for next time as well.

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Final stop? De Garre pub. This gem, hidden in a narrow alley off of the main Market Square, was incredibly famous. People from all over the world have traveled to this tiny pub to try its sought after house triple, the De Garre Triple. Although the informative and cynical owner of the Bottle Shop had earlier explained to us that the De Garre Triple was simply a clone recipe of other major brewery recipes (e.g., Piraat) and that it was overrated, we thought we’d better check it out anyway. While slightly disappointed to hear the reality of the sought-after beer, it didn’t make the beer any less delicious. Served up in unique glassware, the strong ale was hoppy, fruity, and flavorful. It may have been over rated, but we knew we had to at least try it; after all, one can only purchase and try the sought after De Garre Triple in the Bruges pub. When in Rome, right?

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After finishing our beer, we decided we should purchase the De Garre glassware before hitting the road. We did, and then it was very sadly time to go.

Bruges was simply amazing. Beautiful, history rich, and medieval, this beer-focused, charming city left an impression on both of us that will last a life time.  I cannot wait to get back to Bruges, and I would highly recommend that anyone and everyone visit this gorgeous and unique city full of character.

Read more about Bruges’ history HERE.

Our souvenirs:

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In conclusion…

My favorite things about Bruges were:

  • Before Bruges: the beer pickup at the abbey in Westvleteren and the beer tasting at De Struise Brouwers (new favorite brewery of all time)
  • Bruges: Can I just say “everything”?
  • Loved the Bottle Shop for beer bottles – I’ll never forget the shop or the experience
  • Den Amand dinner – OMG. Deliciousness heaven.
  • The unique brewery tour at De Halve Maan
  • The overall beauty of the city – incredibly enjoyable to walk around and explore

 

 

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