Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I awoke on Sunday morning immediately expecting the weight of an almighty hangover bearing down on me but felt surprisingly sprightly despite the large amount of beer that I had imbibed the day before. I’ll be honest I didn’t exactly feel one hundred percent but after I had consumed some savoury ham and cheese crepes I felt ready for another full on day of tourist action.
The weather was grey and miserable with occasional showers so we decided that we would make the most of our three day museum passes which we had purchased on the day of our arrival. Throughout the day we took in the Gruuthuse, the Goeningemuseum and the Stadhuis to name but a few, we made sure we got our moneys worth with our passes and so visited just about every place it gave us access to. The sun came out in the middle of the afternoon and after plenty of walking around I was certainly starting to feel my hangover encroaching but after sitting and eating some frites on the market square my resolve was strengthened and I was building up to what I expected to be the highlight of my holiday, Bierbrasserie Cambrinus.
Cambrinus is a 'must-do' in Bruges
Before heading to Cambrinus I loosened myself up with another bottle of La Chouffe which I was developing quite a taste for and so made sure I had a couple of bottles left to go in my suitcase for future consumption. We arrived at Cambrinus around 8pm and it was considerably quieter than the previous evening, we wouldn’t have needed our reservation but for peace of mind I’m glad we made one. We were ushered to our table and I was presented with an overwhelming wooden bound ‘beer bible’ with a list of the 400 beers that the restaurant had on offer.
I had no idea what to order as I was in awe of the choice of beer available and went with our waiters recommendation which was a very pleasant La Trappe Blond served on draught. Foolishly I didn’t take any tasting notes when I was in Cambrinus, perhaps because I just wanted to enjoy the experience without over analysing it or perhaps because I was very hungover and didn’t want to over exert myself. Interestingly enough this beer was the only non-Belgian beer I drank all weekend as the La Trappe brewery is the only Trappist brewery in the Netherlands. It was pleasant enough and had all the hallmarks of a good Trappist ale but I found it a little dull after all of the wonderment I had sampled over the past couple of days.
As I supped this beer Dianne and I ordered our food, Cambrinus specialises in traditional Flemish dishes, something that’s quite difficult to find in Bruges if you don’t know where to look. My French onion soup starter was quite frankly magnificent but this was merely a primer for my stunning main course, pork cheeks cooked in Rochefort 10. I decided to have a go at matching a beer with the dish I had ordered and fancied a Belgian brown, I plumped for a Moinette Brune from Brasserie Dupont who brew my absolute favourite Belgian Beer, Saison Dupont.
My efforts at food and beer pairing were flawed, the sweetness of the pork needed something dry and bitter to cut through and balance the flavours but the muscavado sugar sweetness in the Moinette did not give this dish the balance it needed. The food was incredible and the beer was good but like most Belgian browns I found it enjoyable enough but a little too sweet for my palate which was currently craving dry and bitter flavours.
After I had finished both my meal and the Moinette Brune I plumped for one more beer, Hopus from Brasserie Lefebvre. This beer was seemingly a new addition to the Cambrinus ‘beer bible’ and was being heavily advertised in the restaurant, it came with the waiters recommendation and with a name like Hopus I was expecting it to appeal to my tastes. The bottle it came in had a swing top cap which is a nice change from the mountain of crown caps that you see on most bottled beers and like all Belgian beers it came in its very own glass. Most Belgian beer glasses are elegant chalices that enhance the already classy qualities of the beer within but the Hopus glass throws elegance out the window and stands there with an almost brash arrogance. The glass itself is HUGE, the stem has an engraved H for Hopus (duh..) and then it rises up like a glass tower from the table almost laughing as it interrupts the conversation you were having as you can no longer see your partners face.
Sadly, Bruges is full of annoying Tourists...
Hopus was incredibly lively, with a huge amount of foam forming atop the fizzy golden liquid but as the glass is so obscenely huge there was no fear of loosing any over the sides. The big question was would this beer live up to the heady expectations set by its fancy bottle, epic glass and lively pour? The nose was of freshly cut grass and had that typical Belgian yeastiness about it, I dived in hoping for the barrage of hops promised by the bines pictured on the bottle. The flavour was pleasant, that grassy aroma was there in the taste and the yeastiness had a tinge not unlike white flour to it. There was a little fruit, some lemon and perhaps a hint of orange peel but the flavours were quite muted and it was all in all a fairly pleasant, if not a little plain Belgian Blond ale. After the heights reached by the quite frankly fantastic Houblon Chouffe the Hopus didn’t quite cut it but it’s dry, refreshing qualities were very welcome after the sweetness of the meal and the Moinette Brune.
It was still pretty early when we finished at Cambrinus, just about after 10pm but Dianne (who had worked her way through the restaurants supply of Lindemans Cassis) and I were tuckered out and we headed back to the hotel for an early night, luckily there was still time for yet another La Chouffe before bedtime. There wasn’t much time on Monday before we had to get our train back to London but we did get ourselves some frites covered in traditional Flemish stew from a stand on the market square and I did find the time to sink a couple more bottles of Duvel. Although Cambrinus was undoubtedly a highlight and is one of my Bruges ‘must-do’ activities my absolute high point was having some beers in Brugs Beertje and the excellent beers from Brasseries Achouffe and Cantillon that I consumed within its walls. I would have liked to do a little more drinking but it wasn’t just my holiday it was Dianne’s and she’s not a beer enthusiast like I am although I was proud of her for being a good sport and trying a lot of the beers that I put in front of her. My other highlight was visiting the Struise Shop which is a beer geek must do for anyone visiting the city.
Bruges is an interesting place, the museums and churches are both interesting and beautiful and the food and drink is superb but it is a very overcrowded tourist trap and so I didn’t quite get to relax quite as much as I would have liked. Also there is a lot of walking, I mean a hideous amount of walking, on hard cobbled streets so expect tired legs, especially if you decide to climb the belfry. I’d love to go back to Bruges again but perhaps in a different capacity, a beer geek weekend or stag do would give me a different perspective on the city and give me the opportunity to drink lots more beer so if I ever went again it would hopefully be in one of those scenarios. As a beer destination it goes without saying that it is highly recommended especially as it is so close to Brussels and so cheap and easy to get to, Bruges definitely gets my seal of approval and I look forward to the next time I am within its city walls.