Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
We awoke late on Saturday morning and Dianne almost immediately presented me with a birthday gift, a Moleskine beer journal which I could keep my tasting notes in, wonderful stuff. Once we were up and about we once again made our way into the centre of town so that we could get some fresh waffles with slagroom (whipped cream) which we ate whilst sat down outside St. Salvator’s Cathedral and enjoyed some early morning sunshine.
A nice beer to Karmeliet down with
Today we had planned to venture off the main tourist trail and visit Stedelijk Kerkhof, a huge cemetery which is about a 15-20 minute walk from the centre of Bruges. On the way we visited a few more sights including Michelangelo’s statue of the Madonna in the Church of Our Lady and sat and ate lunch by the Minnewater, we then made our way over the river and out of town. Dianne posted about this beautiful cemetery on her own blog but as there was no beer there I’ve little more to say about it here but what I will say is that if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre for a couple of hours it’s well worth the walk.
We got back into town around 3pm and I suddenly it dawned upon me, I was more than half way through my own birthday and not a single drop of beer had yet passed betwixt my lips. We found a nice cafe on the square outside the Church of Our Lady and within minutes I was drinking a superb draught Tripel Karmeliet and Dianne was once again on the Kriek. Tripel Karmeliet is for me one of the quintessential Belgian beers and along with Duvel is one of the first I would recommend to someone looking to explore Belgian Blonde Ales and Belgian beer in general.
After we had finished these beers Dianne let me indulge myself a little and whilst she went to use the free wi-fi we found in the town hall I went to buy myself a few birthday presents in the De Struise shop which is located right on Burg Square next to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. There were already three American tourists in the shop who were merrily chatting away to the friendly member of staff behind the counter. I started perusing the selection of around fifteen bottled De Struise beers (I was later told that they usually have over twenty in stock) before I heard the word Brewdog being mentioned and seized my opportunity to join in the conversation. I was happy to indulge the beer geek within while I tried a sample of the excellent De Struise/Three Floyds collaboration ‘Shark Pants’ which was a wonderfully boozy number chock full of caramel malts, dried fruits and an almost spicy grapefruit bitterness. I found the Struise brews interesting because while they are definitely different to other Belgian beers I have tried before, they are still extremely Belgian in character with that trademark flavour of brown sugar and the funky yeastiness that typifies the style.
The Bruges Cemetery is well worth a visit
I left the Struise shop a happy man despite my wallet being several Euro lighter and after making my rendezvous with Dianne we retired back to the hotel to prime ourselves for the evening ahead. After another delightful bottle of La Chouffe I cracked open what is undoubtedly my very favourite Trappist brew, Rochefort 10. There is something about the beers from L’abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy that keeps drawing me back and it’s the flavour of figs and dates soaked in brandy that I find in the 10 that makes it my favourite of the beers they produce. It may have been a little early in the evening for an 11.7% stonker such as this but as it was my birthday I felt that it was my prerogative to indulge myself.
After we had showered and changed we headed out to what was meant to be the next of my birthday treats, a meal at Cambrinus, the famed Bruges beer restaurant that had been recommended to me above all others. When we arrived it was rammed to the gills with punters, a waiter made his way over to us and asked ‘do you have a reservation?’ We didn’t, we hadn’t thought ahead and assumed that as Bruges has so many restaurants that surely even a place as busy as this would have a table for two on a Saturday night. Sadly it wasn’t to be but before we left with our tails between our legs we made a reservation for the following night.
We walked into town, momentarily confused by the shock of not getting to eat at the restaurant of our choosing. After the fog had cleared we made the executive decision to go and get ourselves some Moule Frite at the nicest looking place we could find. Within ten minutes we were sat outside Poules Moules and I was sipping on a cold Duvel waiting for the huge bowl of mussels that I had just ordered. The food was an absolute delight, it’s probably not the cheapest place to grab Moule Frite in Bruges but from what we saw it might just be one of the best, highly recommended. After I sank my second glass of Duvel I felt an incredible wave of relaxation and satisfaction and the regret of not getting into Cambrinus had completely disappeared, I was also a bit drunk.
One of Bruges best bars
It was then time to head to ‘t Brugs Beertjes and you’ve guessed it, drink some more beer. The bar was busy but we managed to get a table right away and while Dianne decided to venture beyond her Kriek safety net (with a Lindemans Pecheresse, one of the nicest fruit Lambics I’ve tried) I ordered at random and ended up with a completely forgettable beer to the point I’ve forgotten what it was actually called. I didn’t make the same mistake when it came to round two though and was soon presented with my first ever bottle of Cantillon Geuze. The farmyard aromas of dry hay and green apples enveloped my nostrils and excited my tastebuds, I couldn’t remember the last time I had been this excited about trying a brew for the first time. The sourness buzzed through my palate like battery acid but once I had gotten used to this extreme sensation I soon found myself enjoying those sour apple and Haribo tangfastic flavours that I had previously enjoyed when I tried Oude Geuze Boon but this time they were cranked up several notches. There was also a healthy dose of pure, unadulterated Belgian funk that lifted this beer onto a higher plain. I passed it to Dianne as she had been drinking fruit lambics all weekend and despite her thinking it smelt like, and I quote ‘the first piss of the day’ she actually found it quite palatable, despite being a little sour for her personal tastes.
At this point a man in a Delirium work shirt who we assumed either worked for the brewery or for one of the local bars noticed Dianne was trying to decide what to try next and recommended a Delirium Red, their take on the Kriek style. It was a nice beer, too sweet for me but it seemed to be just ordinary Delirium Tremens mixed with a Kriek, I think Dianne enjoyed it but at well over 8% it knocked her for six. Sensibly after this she ordered a gentle Lindemans Cassis which ‘tasted like Ribena’ and to be honest she wasn’t far wrong. I decided to plump for a Houblon Chouffe which according to the label is a ‘Double IPA Tripel’ and as the usual La Chouffe Gnome found on the bottles label was accompanied by several rows of hop bines I was convinced I was on to a winner. I wasn’t wrong, Houblon Chouffe was undoubtedly my favourite beer of the entire weekend with the yeasty Belgian Tripel flavours combining with a wonderfully pithy hop bitterness. The most impressive thing was that neither of the two elements that made up this beer dominated the other with the IPA elements being perfectly balanced with the funkiness of the Tripel, superb.
After these beers it was almost midnight and as well as being tired from all the walking we had done we were decidedly half cut so we decided to call it a night on part two of our Belgian adventure.