I begin here with a photo of the view from the rooftop of De Halve Maan Brewery (the Half Moon, in English). Why was I there? Because during the brewery tour, they led us up to the roof so we could take in this fabulous view. Weird, but very nice. As you can see, Brugge is very medieval, churches are the biggest objects on the horizon (anywhere in Belgium), and ALL buildings are made of brick. Everywhere. A wood building is considered a slum.
Below you can see the outdoor dining patio, in front of the brewery. It was nice, but we were unable to find an open table, so we ate inside. One thing I really loved was the glass awning, with the circles designed into the ironwork supports.
Below are some shots from the brewery tour. Deb was just having fun with her cheap camera - so nothing extraordinary here, but you could tell there were some art-minded people working here. The first picture shows different kinds of barley, a main ingredient in beer. Two-row barley, so called because the grain grows in two rows, pictured closest to the playing cards, produces a fatter kernel, which is going to give you more fermentable sugar than a six-row barley, which looks prettier on the stem but produces less sugar. Sugar converts to alcohol when the yeasties are introduced during the fermentation process. Therefore, if you see beer made with two-row barley, it's probably a better beer. Or so goes the theory.
Hops are, of course, important to the brewing process, too. The display below shows where most of the Belgian hops come from. As you can see, Poperinge (where we were before we came to Brugge) is an important hops producer. The jar contains some dried hop cones.
Below is the attic space where the beer goes to chill after the barley, water and hops are boiled. For some beers produced in this region, spontaneous fermentation occurs when the beer is exposed to the natural yeast spores found floating in the air around the brewery. This is controlled by opening the slats in the walls to varying degrees. Note the brick roof - not made of wood. Seriously.
Here, you can get a sense of the scale of this giant cooling tank, which Jeff is standing in!!!! You have to walk through it to get to the roof deck. I hope they clean it well between uses!!! :)
A homebrewer's dream: a huge pile of flip tops!!!!! I thought it was just a nice texture shot. You never know when you're gonna need a photo of a texture, right?
The brew kettles were huge. I thought they were kind of interesting, so here's a couple of pictures of a brew kettle. The second one shows beer "wort" boiling. This is the process where the malted barley, water, and hops are cooked to make a "tea," which is then strained and fermented with the addition of yeast. Beer making is a lot of work!
This is a batch of Zot(a beer they make here at De Halve Maan), boiling away.
Near the end of the tour, they walk you through this room where they have set up old stuff that they no longer use, such as this old bottle filler. Annoyingly cutesy.
Finally, the good part - the restaurant. This is where we discovered Flemish stew! Loved that! The beers available on draft after the tour were a dark (dubbel) and a light (trippel) - both called the Zot. Available bottled in the U.S., it's a pretty good beer. However, you can only get the unfiltered version on tap in the brewery, which we enjoyed. The restaurant was light and airy, with really cool architecture: high ceilings, lots of brick (of course), dried hop vines hanging everywhere, and huge murals. Very fun.
View out window from brewery: I just loved the colors of the tile roofs throughout Belgium. Sometimes red, sometimes pink, sometimes orange, sometimes blue-violet, and when moss grows on them, green. I imagine a watercolor painting of Belgian roofs in my future.
The last thing we enjoyed in Brugge may very well have been the best beer bar we've ever visited (though it is arguable that t'Brugge Beertje has an amazing selection, this place also exudes atmopshere). It is called t'Poatersgat, or Peter's Gate. Located in the basement of an old church near the heart of the Old City, it was recommended by the locals, even the guy behind the bar in t'Brugge Beertje. We only had two nights in Brugge. The first night, we obviously had to spend at t'Brugge Beertje. But the second night was the night they were closed. So, we asked the folks there where we should go for our second night. This is the place they recommended. After our tour of De Halve Maan and our obligatory canal cruise, we sought this place, which wasn't easy to find. One of the people we met here was the person who had conducted our brewery tour - a sure sign that we were in a great beer bar!
The entrance was below street level, down a precarious looking set of worn stone steps. The doorway is so low, even short folks need to duck (maybe "bend over" is a more accurate way of putting it!) . Note the unassuming sign, that's small and easy to miss:
Being in an old church basement, the place has a unique character - including arched vaults, necessary to support the massive building above. It creates a series of small rooms, separated by low archways, perfect for decorating with dried hop vines. The vines create a nice atmosphere, and are very aromatic. However, the guy tending bar told us they are a bit of a pain, because they constantly drip a powdery debris, which has to be swept up daily. Still - charming. It has marble floors, Persian rugs, comfy furniture, marble-clad columns, and an amazing beer selection despite its upscale look. The music was kept at good levels for conversation, and the candles and statuary lend a somewhat dark, but cozy atmosphere. The bartender seemed very knowledgable and friendly. Address: 82 Vlamingstraat, just north of the Grote Markt a few blocks, on the main street that goes through it.
Some of the niches in the walls contain icons - statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, which were used to enhance prayer experiences. Today, they quietly overlook the goings on in the bar, illuminated mostly by candle light.
Jeff and I really enjoyed some great beers here. So did Deb. We especially enjoyed the Rodenbach Grand Cru (in the red glass - this beer is barrel aged in oak), the Rodenbach Vin de Cereal (in white paper - a limited release brewed in 2004, aged at least three years, a wheat wine, about 10% ABV), and the Rochefort Trappiste 10 (in the brown bottle - arguably one of the best beers on the planet, and often available in Chicago!!!!). Thankfully we were able to walk to our hotel from here!!!!
Overall, we loved Brugge/Bruges, and hope to go back someday. It is a beautiful, charming city, with lots of great architecture, beer, food, shopping, and the kind of quiet you only get in Venice.
Our next stop: Brussels!!!