ALE Winter 2002/2003 No. 308

A Weekend in Bruges

As I had been away for two weekends already (see ALE 307), it seemed silly not to make it three.

As Bruges is known as the Venice of the North, and is a beautiful old city, and romantic, I decided to take the wife (Roz) away for our wedding anniversary. (So successful was this weekend, the wife now wants to come away more to drink beer - whoops!) Anyway, we nipped over on Eurostar at the end of March, to Brussels, then caught the express to Bruges.

It took us about seven hours door to door. Staying just down from the Zand, we took a walk around looking for somewhere to eat. Although the food is good on the main square, I plumped for an old Favourite of mine called Erasmus, which now specialises in doing traditional Flemish dishes in beer. So, one traditional carbonnade later...

The beer range is very good in Erasmus: although it's not cheap it's certainly worth a visit, and the service second to none. At the time of the visit, the owner had original beers from the Crombe brewery (Grand Cru, Oud Zottegems and Oud Kriekenbier), which took some serious damage. Also on sale was a new beer called Atomium Premier Grand Cru. Although unfortunately this is another Van Steenberge production, it is not bad. It claims to be made from barley, spelt, rye, maize, wheat, buckwheat, oranges and coriander seeds. You can taste the orange, coriander and buckwheat.

On leaving the Erasmus we then turned left, walked over the canal bridge and turned left again. Finding a café called Den Ovene, we nipped in as it looked very beerish, and it was. This is a new discovery, and although it appeared to be a quiet "locals" bar it had a beer range of 49, with another four or five on the specials board. We stopped for a couple, and felt very relaxed. It also does basic snacks and pasta, with an interesting Bruges Triple Flag. I tried another new beer here: Leute Bokbier, again from Van Steenberge. It's OK, but it ain't gonna win the Bok Bier festival in Amsterdam! The glass was also a gimmick, as it needs the wooden block it stands in to stay upright because it has a curved bottom!

Here's a question for all you Belgian beer fans here: do you think that the Belgian beer industry is being held up by having to have a special glass for every beer, or will only the "proper" style of glass do? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Anyway, after a very enjoyable couple of beers, we tried for the second time to get into Staminee De Garre, one of my favourite bars in Belgium. As usual, it was very busy and we couldn't get a table, so this time we headed off to the Brugs Beertje (The Little Bruges Bear), where we could get a table. This is another of the classic bars of Belgium and not to be missed. Four draught beer and a bottled range of over 220 beers in a well-chosen range is fabulous. The landlady, Daisy, remembered me and said "Back in town again Ron? Nice to see you." So I introduced the wife and ordered a couple of beers. After whiling away some time and some beers in this fabulous bar, it was time to head back to the hotel.

Saturdays there is a market on T'Zand, and is a fabulous traditional Belgium market, with fresh meat and cooked meat stalls, cheese and cut meats and then clothing and sweet and bric-à-brac stalls. We were talking with another English couple from Kent who said that they come over once a month just for the market.

However, Roz could see I was getting bored so she suggested I go for a beer. Well, I don't need asking twice, so two minutes later I was strolling into Dickies (or the café Dachshund), a bar on the corner of the Zand. 70+ beers in this bar make for an interesting range. As well as the excellent tapas, this bar has one particularly interesting feature: if you want a Kwak, you have to give up a shoe until the glass is returned.

Also, a lot of us Brits get in the bar, and I am sorry to say that sometimes so are ashamed to be English. One couple come in and ordered two McChouffe from draught, nice one, but one idiot comes in and asks for a lager top, which he has to then explain to the landlady. Anyway she serves him a half litre glass of Pils with a bottle of cloudy lemonade, and it takes here 15 minutes to explain to him they do not have lemonade on tap, and that real lemonade is all they have. I am shaking my head in my hands, when the landlord comes out, listens to what is going on, sees me and starts killing himself laughing! (I had been talking to him earlier about his beer menu, he thought I was Dutch!)

After some shopping, sight-seeing and a siesta, we made our way to the Bruges Bierkaai, a brew pub which sells three of their own beers. We walk in and sit down, and I ask for the menu in Dutch. I believe it is only polite to try to use the language of the country you are visiting if you can. I only speak Pigeon Dutch though. Anyway, the waiter comes over, gives us the menu and starts gabbling away in Dutch, some of which I can understand, but I stop him and say we are English. After this is sorted out, he reckons I speak Dutch with an Amsterdam accent! I wonder where I picked that up from - Ronald!!

However, after a couple of beers, we don't fancy the food in here so we press on to the De Zolder, a cellar bar with five beers on draught and a bottle range of over 40. It looks as though a band is due on though, and as we want more substantial food than snacks we move on after a couple of beers, and make our way down the road to the Taverne Curiosa, which has had a refurbishment since my last visit, and is now completely open plan, with a greater emphasis on food. The food is very good though, and although the beer range has gone down a little, it is still acceptable. Beware the steps though!

So finally to Staminee De Garre, and this time we get a table, on our fourth go. This place is so relaxing and, to the strains of classical music, we savoured de Troch Cuvee, and a house Tripel, which is very strong. Suddenly Ravel's Bolero strikes up, which is the signal that it is time to leave, so we head for a last beer in the hotel bar.

Unfortunately, I had booked an earlier Eurostar, so come Sunday we had to clear straight off to Brussels for the Eurostar home. However, we had a very enjoyable weekend. If you want a short break somewhere, then you can do a lot worse than Bruges. It is also very historic and tourist-friendly, so there is something for everyone.

The Lambic Monster

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