30 December, 2007

Bruges Beer Bars

Paula and I were lucky enough to visit several of the best beer bars in Bruges including:

As with Brussels, there are several very good beer bars in Bruges that are a must if you travel there for any length of time. We did some research into which bars to head to first and when to do it. I also tried to find out if there were any rare treats in bottle or on tap that would be worth the trek to find.

t’ Brugs Beertje – The first bar that we visited on our first night in Bruges was t’ Brugs Beertje and it just so happens to be the most famous and well respected of all the Bruges bars from what I could tell. As with several of the bars in town, this bar was not easy to find but after a few wrong turns and dead end alleys, we arrived at the front of this cute little bar. There is some cool breweriana in the front windows before you enter the bar.

We arrived at about 6 pm and when we popped open the front door we were greeted by a full house at the bar and all the tables in this room, and a lot of smoke. I didn’t really get a chance to take in the sights in this front area but we were quickly greeted by the owner, Daisy, and told that there should be a few tables at the very back of the bar. We exited the front bar and went into a middle room that looked like a small living room as it had several tables and a fireplace that is now gas burning. As we were walking through I didn’t take in all the sights but there were several large posters on the wall and other old breweriana. We will come back to this room later.

After exiting the second room we found our way into the back bar which had a few open tables so we quickly grabbed one. This back area is really cool. The walls are covered with breweriana mainly from breweries you would recognize but they looked like older labeling. I also spotted a bottle of Victory Hop Devil on the top of one of the walls. There is a bar in the back and a very friendly guy working it but there are no seats at the bar, it is just for serving and there is a table that pretty much backs in the bar.

We were seated for less than 3 minutes when our bartender came around with a large menu in a nice binder and he also pointed us to the 5 drafts that were available. After giving a quick look of the beer menu we each settled on our first beer. My first choice was a Christmas De Kononick on draft but that was out so I picked a Still Nacht 2006 and Paula had a Tripel Karmaliet bottle. Both were served in proper glassware. After taking a few sips of our beers, we started to look around and listen and it appeared that more than half of the crowd in the back area where either American tourists or from England or Australia. It felt like a bar back home to actually understand the conversations going on around us. It was also good to see that a number of the groups around us were studying the beer menu like I was or writing down notes on beers in notepads or journals, again like I was. We even saw a girl next to us writing things down in a special beer journal that was organized by beer styles and all. The one thing that struck me as odd about some of the groups was what they were drinking. We saw a large number of Lindeman’s Peche beer being ordered. With all the other great, real, lambics on their menu, I felt like suggesting something different to them but they seemed happy with their choices so good for them. We each had one more beer for this night, a Bruge Zot for Paula and a Pannepot for me.

The beer menu at t’ Brugs Beertje is very indepth and I could have spent much more time than I did reading it. There was an extensive selection of lambic beers, trappist beers, and even some rare treats that looked interesting. I tried to order one, a 1984 Liefman’s Goudenband but unfortunately that was out.

We returned the following night to another full house, this time around 11pm or so. We found our way to the very back again and were lucky that a couple was just getting ready to leave a table right by the bar so we grabbed it. This time a new bartender came over to us with the menu and a few suggestions for bottles. I asked if they had any bottles of the Struise Earthmonk and unfortunately the last one was consumed a month or so back. Because I asked about this rare bottle, he told me of some other harder to find bottles that they had but were not on the list. We started this night out by splitting a 750 ml bottle of Glazen Toren Canaster Winter Scotch. When the bottle was presented to us in the wrapping paper and all, it turned some heads in the load crowd. Although the crowd the night before in this part of the bar was rather quiet, the crowd on this our final night in Bruges was much more talkative but what do you expect for after 11 pm in a great city like this. Like the night before, a lot of the people in the bar crowd were American or at least spoke English.

After finishing the Canaster bottle, we picked 2 more bottles that were not on the actual beer menu but suggestions from the bartender. We ordered a T’Smisje Grande Reserva which was aged in whiskey casks and also a T’Smisje Calva Reserva and split them. Both bottles were made for the U.S. market but I hadn’t ran into them before leaving for Luxembourg so I thought we should try them now. The Grande Reserva was pretty dark tasting although the alcohol was a bit higher. Although the Calva Reserva was interesting, it was not our cup of tea. The alcohol was much more noticeable in this one and the beer was rather flat but interesting none the less. We then moved onto another bottles to split, a Rodenbach Vin de Cereale which is very limited and comes in at 10%. Since it was now approaching 12:30 am or so, we split this one again. I just can’t get enough of this beer and apparently the bartenders really enjoy it as well as they were happy that I ordered it. About half way through this bottle we were only 1 of 2 tables left, a total of 5 people in this whole section of the bar so they moved us up to the 2nd room so they could lock up the back part. It was about 1am at this point and they supposedly close at 1 am but they were in no hurry to get us out, actually some of the bartenders were having drinks of their own and socializing with us.

After finishing the Rodenbach, we moved onto one last beer for the night, a 750 ml of De Ranke Kriek, a wonderful beer. In fact it was the favorite beer of our one bartender so we talked about it for awhile. We got more into talking and he said that folks from the New Belgium Brewery were recently on one of their beer vacations with employees and he also mentioned that Tom from Monk’s CafĂ© in Philly had been there in the past.

I got a laugh out of the other table that was left with us in the back and moved into the middle room. There were 2 guys and 2 girls, all American. They were asking the one bartender about different beers and he served them up a bottle of Deus and some other expensive beers.

After doing more socializing and some drinking, we decided to leave as it was approaching 2am and there was no sign of this place totally closing down although they had locked the front door. When we were ready to leave we got a nice goodbye from our bartender friends and were told we should come back soon. I am sure that we will try. When we got outside of the bar, I took a few pictures of the front of the place and thought it was pretty cool that although all of the curtains had been drawn and the door was locked, you could see some light coming through the windows and you could certainly hear the classical music and socializing going on inside. For a minute I also wanted to head back in but we moved on to our hotel for the night.

Hotel Erasmus
Hotel Erasmus has a few personalities. It is first a hotel, then a restaurant and then a quality beer bar. We were staying here for the 2 nights that we were in Bruges and we made dinner reservations when we arrived on the evening of the 28th of December for that same evening and they were kind enough to accommodate us at 8pm. After we arrived back at the Erasmus from our first trip to the t’ Brugs Beertje, we sat down in the upscale dining room and I was instantly focused on the wall of beer bottles above my head, maybe 200 or so. I read they had a vintage and extensive bottle selection and great food so it was a combination we had to try. Upon getting the beer menu I ordered a Kerkhom Winterkoninkske draft and Paula had a draft of Verhaeghe Christmas. My beer was ok but Paula’s was a real hit with her and I.

For dinner we decided to get a 3 course prix fixe menu that was only about €35 per person. For starters Paula got a smoked salmon dish and I ordered Belgian ham dish which was basically like pruscuitto. Both were very good. For our main courses Paula ordered sole filets in a Gouden Carolous sauce and I ordered the Flemish Grandmothers stew with apple puree and pomme frites. To go along with our main courses Paula ordered a bottle of Achel Trappist Blonde and I ordered a 9 year old bottle of De Dolle 21 which I read was made specifically for Hotel Erasmus for their 21st anniversary in 1988 so the bottle was around 9 years old at the time I drank it and the label really showed its age but the beer tasted very nicely, aged nicely.

Den Dyver

Cambrinus Restaurant

t' Poatersgat

This is a relatively new bar that I read about while doing some research about bars in Bruges but it was not in any books. It probably had the coolest location of any bar we have been to in that the entrance is down a tiny set of stairs down into a cellar. The bar didn’t open until 5pm and when it was closed it just looked like a couple of painted boards with a name on it. You could not tell that there were actually steps under there and you could not tell that it was a bar as there was only a name and nothing else. But when it did open up, we ducked our heads and found ourselves into a dark but well appointed cellar which seemed like a wine cave or something along those lines. Huge white columns all over the place and marble floors, some covered by large rugs. Besides one guy at the bar, we were the only ones there but we still had a good time and based on the beer menu, I think this place would be a good time when the crowds started to roll in later at night.

Paula started with a Pere Noel draft and I had a bottle of Struise Rosse, both very fine beers. My second beer was a Leute Bokbier. The more we stayed at this bar the more we enjoyed it, especially the music. They were playing classic American music. I remember hearing songs from Elvis, the Mama’s and Papa’s and Jackson Brown. The best part about this place is that it is a good 5 minute walk from the main tourist area so the crowds are lower but it is still extremely easy to find.

De ZolderDe Zolder is right across the street from t’ Poatersgat and has an almost equally dangerous entrance down a tiny set of stairs with some well placed beer signs. We also heard good things about the selection at this place and that it has the same owners at t’ Poatersgat so we wanted to give it a shot before dinner. Since it was about 7pm or a little earlier at this point, the crowd was rather light with only about 3 English guys at the bar and a young couple having dinner near us. There was a friendly husband and wife running this place and the bar had a really nice feel inside with a fireplace, hardwood floors, wooden ceilings and honey yellow colored walls. This bar also had a nice mix of American classics playing on the surprisingly high tech stereo system. We could have stayed there the whole night and worked through the beer menu if not for reservations for dinner at Den Dyver at 8pm. Paula had a Petrus draft and I had Christmas draft that I can’t remember at this time and for some reason I didn’t write it down on my geeky beer pad. After our first and only drinks here, we make the 10 minute walk back to our dinner destination.

Check out our pictures from the wonderful Bruges beer bars that we visited on this trip

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