08 November 2017

Bruges, properly

I had been to Bruges three times previously, once even (just) within the purview of this blog. But there remained the nagging knowledge that I'd never done it properly: I had never stayed over and had never been to the famous Brugs Beertje pub. That was high on the list to be rectified on this trip. The other specific draw I'll get to later, but first, time for a beer.

We rolled into town early on a Monday afternoon and the only place of interest that was open was Café Rose Red, one of the well-reputed beer destinations in the city, and another I'd never been to before. It's a bright and smart little bar attached to the Hotel Cordoeanier. The beer list isn't exhaustive, but it's impressive and looks conscientiously chosen.

I went for Cuvée des Jacobins to begin, a Flemish red. Very red, it turned out: a clear deep ruby shade. It's extremely tart, with an enamel-stripping vinegar acidity. The burn lasts all the way through, into a long finish, and isn't especially pleasant. There's only a slight puff of black cherry to lighten the mood. This beer really lacks the finesse of the better versions of the style. If you just want raw sourness then it might be for you.

An IPA to follow: Jack's Precious from Musketeers, the first of their beers I've had that isn't part of the Troubadour series. It's 5.9% ABV and a hazy gold colour with a quite off-putting sickly aroma. The flavour is beautiful, however: a stern green-leaf hop bitterness first, calming down quickly to give a juicy peach middle, before tailing off cleanly. It is still sweet, but I guess that's Belgium for you. Nothing about this is overdone, however. It's an IPA of classy restraint.

And so to 't Brugs Beertje. Whiffs a bit, doesn't it? Has Febreeze technology not yet reached Belgium? The cramped little bar was packed on a Monday night but we managed to secure a couple of seats in the front parlour.  I had De Zwaret Zwaan, brewed at Proef for the Brugs Bierinstituut. I'm guessing that stout is the style they're pitching for as it's black with a generous tan head and blends dark coffee roast with sweeter mocha in the flavour. The finish is a burnt ashen dryness that would be harsh in a lighter beer but, with 8% ABV and a big chewy body to balance it, works very well here. This is a lovely rich and comforting sipper.

Fort Lapin is one of the handful of breweries in and around Bruges. The missus picked Fort Lapin Quadrupel for hers. I wrote about their tripel back in 2013, finding it quite heavy for the style. The opposite is true for the quadrupel. A chestnut brown colour, it's light and gently perfumed with no alcohol heat: especially surprising at 10% ABV. A sandalwood spicing adds some complexity, but it's no palate thumper, and probably a better beer for that.

The evening ended there, and first thing on Tuesday we went to find the other thing that had drawn me to Bruges.

There seems to be a movement among Belgium's bigger brewers in recent years to create visitor experiences. Duvel Moortgat has one at the De Koninck plant in Antwerp now, while Van Honsebrouck has begun inviting punters to its impressive Bierkasteel. Back in April I heard that John Martin's had set up something similar for its Bourgogne des Flandres bra