Keeping it real … Real Ale
366 different beers!!! How am I going to try 366 different types of beer from 97 different breweries! This is the first problem you are faced with when planning a trip to the Bruges Beer Festival. The brutal reality is you have no chance but once you get over that then you’re are in for a great time because the Bruges Beer Festival is brilliant.
It all starts with an early Eurostar train journey to Brussels, for those who have never used the Eurostar to travel to Belgium then I recommend it, it’s quicker than getting to some Orient away day football games I have been to and although possibly in need of a little face lift the Eurostar is a great service. While on the journey I flick through my 80 beers in Bruges book and glance around the train playing “spot the beer festival goers”, which to be honest isn’t hard I’m sitting next to a chap in a Kwak hat! We all end up talking and what is already a short two hour train journey flies by as we exchange beer stories and give recommendations on where to go whilst in Bruges, some propa beer geek friends going on!
Getting to Bruges from Brussels is fairly easy, especially as you can buy your Eurostar ticket as a return to any Belgian station and travel to Bruges on your Eurostar ticket. After checking into our incredible apartment we ventured out into Bruges for some “festival eve” drinks… Bruges is packed with brewheads that have all travelled to Belgium from all over the world, all with plans to visit the beer festival. After a few drinks in @thepub we try to move on but cannot get into La Garre, Cafe Rose Red or Cambrinus as it is so busy! We only just get into T’Brugsch Bieratelier for a few post dinner night caps.
The beer festival is organised by BAB (Bruges Autonomous Beer Tasters) which is an offspring of Zythos. This organisation is kind of like a Belgian CAMRA they promote Belgian beer and run such events like this beer festival.
The next day we are up bright and early to get ready and get to the festival for 12pm kick off. We took advantage of the free horse and carriage ride from the railway station to the venue for the festival, this was a nice little touch adding to the excitement of stepping into the festival!
The beer festival is free to get in and out of but if you want to actually get a drink then you will need to buy either the €20 package for two or the €10 package. The €20 package for two gets you two glasses, a festival booklet each, a postcard to send home (which I regrettably forgot to send!) and four tokens each. Tokens can be purchased after for €1.50 each and most the drinks are one token, there were only one or two I saw that was two tokens per beer.
It is kind of daunting walking into a room of this size and trying to decide what drink to have, like a kid in a candy store you stand there slightly gob smacked lost for words and having no clue where to start! I knew I wasn’t going to be choosing all the beers I can get hold of easily around the bars of Bruges so goodbye cute pink elephants and my loyal friend La Chouffe! I was on a random mission to pick beers and breweries I have never seen or heard of before.
Each brewery has a stand with their beers, a glass cleaning sink, people to chat to and even some merchandise and beers for sale. Most the people we spoke to spoke perfect English (like most of Belgium!) so don’t be scared of going up to them and asking what they brew etc as they were all more than happy to chat and even understood our Essex accents!
It didn’t take long for it to really pack out! The beer festival used to take part in the famous Belfry in the main markt square but the demand and crowd soon outgrew the stunning surroundings. It now takes place in a huge warehouse like hall, just five to ten minutes walk outside the main part of Bruges, but to be honest it looks like it is starting to outgrow that too! Table seats are to a minimum and good luck trying to get seats, these go to those who are queuing at the crack of dawn! This isn’t a problem for me though as I don’t mind standing and walking around on the hunt for the next beer.
There was a good crowd, unlike England there isn’t any divides between traditional beer drinkers and a new younger crowd that you might get at certain beer festivals back home. On a whole the crowd was also well behaved, there wasn’t any really drunk loud stag do type groups and everyone seemed to be there to enjoy the beers and have a good time! There was a whole seating area for live demonstrations and talks for those who fancied a little bit of education with their beers!
Food outside was your usual big burger and hot dog stands with lots of chips. Of course there was also a waffle stand. On the inside there was slightly more home made selections of spag bol and hand made baguettes. Most of the brewery stands also had free bread!
Who doesn’t like a tombola! I dare anyone to say they don’t! The tombola here was huge and there was lots of happy punters around the festival with huge winners of big bottles of beers, beers packs, t shirts and glasses, I even won myself a new design Chimay glass to bring home! Alongside the fun and games of the tombola was a large scrabble board, now here it gets a bit confusing, you win your letters either through the tombola or when buying tokens (being in Flemish you are most likely to get a “a”, “j”, “t” or “e”!), you then have to spell out beer related words from letters so you can win or trade with other festival goers and I’m guessing the person with the highest scrabble points at the end wins something?… Got to love those quirky Belgians!
If you’ve never been before then I strongly recommend you book your tickets for next year! I’m hoping to make it a yearly event for me as it’s so easy to get to via the Eurostar and is such a top festival. I didn’t have one bad beer, neither did the people I was with! It will be a big heavyweight fight between the Bruges and Barcelona beer festivals to see who was the best festival I visited this year!