Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
Next year my girlfriend Dianne and I will turn 30, our birthdays are two days apart and we’ve decided that when the time finally comes around we’ll probably throw a big joint birthday party to celebrate. This year however we decided to go away for a weekend and have a quiet one, I suggested we visit Bruges as I knew Dianne had been wanting to go for some time and there is, of course, a huge amount of Belgian beer that I want to try. To my delight she agreed instantaneously and so Eurostar tickets were booked and hotel reservations were made, I couldn’t wait to be merrily ambling along the cobbled streets and around the alcoves.
I love a good Geuze, me
I first visited the city of Bruges when I was twelve years old, I was on one of those school trips which involves a huge group of kids roaming the streets with seemingly no adult around to control them. Beer had barely entered my radar when I was twelve, that trip was about chocolate, lots of chocolate, too much chocolate. So much in fact that the only thing I remembered about Bruges was the first ever toilet I had to pay to get into (my twelve year old self was outraged) and that on the way back I was so sick I had to sit at the front of the bus with the teachers, what little playground credibility I carried with me was lost on that bus journey.
Fast forward seventeen years and my priorities had shifted somewhat, I was now interested in the medieval history, the food and of course, the drink. I’ve been interested in Belgian beer since my dad bought me a Chimay gift pack for my seventeenth birthday but ever since my discovery of modern American and British craft beer it’s slipped off my radar a little. My impending trip to Bruges had reignited this old love and I couldn’t wait to sit outside a cafe on a square and enjoy a cold Duvel or a Tripel Karmeleit. Plus there were new horizons to discover, Belgium has not been absent from the craft beer revolution with new Breweries such as De Struise appearing on the scene and I also wanted to spend some time exploring what some beer geeks consider the final frontier, gueuze.
Soon I was sitting on a stationary train in St. Pancras station on the day before my birthday, my palms were sweating with anticipation and excitement, it might have been eight in the morning but I was almost ready for a beer. It wasn’t long before my wish was fulfilled, after three and a half hours we arrived at our hotel, checked in and headed out to explore the city. Before long we’d found a basic cafe and along with some savoury crepes I ordered my first beer of the trip, a Westmalle Dubbel. I’d not had this beer in a few years but its fruity, sugary goodness primed me for the rest of the weekend nicely.
Before I left for Bruges I had asked twitter for some recommendations of where to eat and drink and after lunch we wandered around so we could locate them thus making them easier to find when we wanted to pay them a visit. We located ‘t Brugs Beertjes ‘Bierboetiek’ with zero effort as the street it was on was directly opposite the cafe we had lunch and we soon found Cambrinus, the restaurant that we had been recommended above all others. We then decided to get a three day museum pass (highly recommended as it gets you into all the main museums and saves you a few Euro) and then somewhat foolishly (considering I’d just had a massive ham and Roquefort crepe) climbed the belfry in the centre of town so we could suss out the lay of the land. After 300-odd steps we were exhausted and it was near impossible to make out the twisted mess of Bruges streets that sat below us, almost mocking us and our tired legs.
There's more to Bruges than just beer y'know
Sensibly after this epic climb we decided to do some more walking and browsed in a few of the more tourist orientated shops. I of course used this opportunity to look around some of the incredible beer shops that sold hundreds of different bottles of exciting looking Belgian beer with 2be and its wall of beer being by far the most impressive. Dianne then blessed me with words of wisdom, advising me that a local supermarket probably had loads of beer at half the price and thankfully she wasn’t wrong. We picked up supplies of bread, meat and cheese from the supermarket in order to save our precious pennies for some nice meals later in the weekend and I picked up a four pack of La Chouffe and some of my favourite Trappist beer, Rochefort 10. The beer was significantly cheaper in the supermarket and there must’ve been a selection of around forty or fifty bottled beers. As an example a four pack of the delightful Kasteel Rouge which will set you back up to £4.50 a half in a fancy beer bar was a paltry five euro, bargain.
That evening we had a relatively quiet one deciding to save our energy (and more importantly our cash) for the two full days that were yet to come. After a couple of cheeky liveners (I had some La Chouffe and Dianne tried some Palm Lager and the first of the many Kriek beers that she would imbibe this weekend) we headed out to find some cheap eats on the Sint Amandsstraat and noticed how difficult it was to find traditional Flemish cuisine but how easy it was to find Italian, French, Spanish and Chinese food. We settled on a relatively cheap Italian place that didn’t set our world on fire so isn’t worth mentioning here but the beer was good, Dianne had some KRIEK MAX (Max meaning more fruit and lower alcohol evidently) and I had a locally brewed Brugge Tripel which was very pleasant but didn’t excite me enough to warrant scribbling any notes.
After dinner we went for another stroll and somehow managed to find ourselves at the north part of town as the sun set behind three beautiful old windmills. The walk had made us thirsty and we found a bar, the name of which I forget, that was full of younger locals enjoying the Euro 2012 match between Greece and Germany. The beer menu was good and as Dianne delved into yet another Kriek I finally got hold of my first Gueuze of the weekend, Oude Gueuze Boon. It was a wonderful flavour bomb of sour apples, sherbert and haribo tangfastics a totally different flavour experience to a really bitter IPA but just as pleasurable, it was also a great starter Gueuze and prepared me for some of the more insane beers I was yet to try over the next couple of days.