Keeping it real … Real Ale
4:45am my alarm clock goes off, waking me up in our IBIS hotel in Lea Bridge Road Leyton, instantly I am thanking myself for sticking to only a few pints of 3.1% Citra from Brodies in the King William 6 hours previous. It is an early departure time of 5:45am from Leyton Orient Supporters Club as we set off for a day coach trip to Bruges. It’s going to be a long day, we are going via ferry but it’s been over a year since I visited Belgium so it will be worth the coach trip for 6 hours of beer hunting. With a full English inside us and a quick look at the White Cliffs of Dover we are already on the other side and getting off at Calais. Bruges is about an hour and half from here.
After what felt like a fairly quick journey we arrive at Bruges, strolling through my usual route so we can take in the tourist sights. The Christmas markets are on and we do a lap in hunt of some Christmas tat. To be honest I think the Christmas markets are pretty shit, if you want hot boozy drinks, Leffe and expensive tourist shit then you’re in the right place. Personally, it doesn’t get my festive Rudolf nose glowing.
Is a 11% beer a good idea to start the day with? We asked ourselves this but quickly decided that with only 5 hours in Bruges to enjoy who cared if it was a good idea or not! Coming to this decision meant that the first point of call was the beautiful Da Garre. De Garre is located down a secret little alley way just off Breidelstraat, one of the roads joining onto the Markt Square. It can easily be missed so keep an eye out for the alley way after the Christmas decoration shop.
De Garre is a lovely old tavern, as soon as you take the steps up into the front door you can sense the history. Being spread out over three floors makes it hard work for the excellent waiters and waitresses to give everyone table service. With a beer menu going well into triple digits and some draught beer which always has real quality De Garre will keep you well beered. Although the beer selection is very impressive there is one beer that is worth going for alone, their house beer Tripel Van De Garre brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge, a 11% heavyweight. It is very sweet, lots of candy sugar and caramel flavours and presented beautifully in one of the special Garre glasses, alongside some lovely Belgian cheese. The beers are served on small trays with paper lace mats, the draught beer menu is also wrote on these paper lace which can be seen on top of the bar. If you want to experience high quality Belgian beer in a traditional Belgian surrounding, then you don’t get much better than De Garre.
Café Rose Red is my favourite place in the world. There is just something so magical and relaxing about the café, on paper a bar with lots of fake roses hanging from the season sounds a bit cheesy but not here. Lots of carved wooden tables, bar, decorations are all sitting under the hanging red roses from the ceiling and low hanging lights. The beer selection is incredible, what sets it apart from some other great Bruges drinking establishments is the aged beers, although obviously slightly expensive you can buy aged Cantillon, De Struise and many other beers from lots of different vintages.
The draught selection is always top quality, usually featuring beers from newer breweries like De Struise and De Dochter Van De Korenaar. It is snug, which just adds to the romance more and although highly rated on TripAdvisor in Burges restaurants section the food menu doesn’t stretch past bread, cheese and sausage. The owner is friendly and keeps the tables well served, you can tell he is enthusiastic about the beers on his bar. The first drink I had was De Struise XXXX Quadruple X 12% (stepping up from the previous 11%!), it was big and boozy, tasted like a perfect Christmas malt cake and was very much like an English barley wine, I opted for the 150ml pour which was perfect amount to slowly sip as the others enjoyed larger glasses of Cantillon and Dues Brut des Flanders champagne beer.
As soothing soul and jazz music played in the background we enjoyed some cheese and sausage (our only real meal while in Bruges!), I must remember to get some celery salt as I love the Belgian cheese with a bit celery salt on top. Then Paul and I went on a bit of an experiment and a travel through time as we tried St Bernadus Kerst (Christmas) 2012, 2013 and 2014 back to back. These were all on draught, God knows where they got it from I assume he has been keeping hold on some kegs for this moment. Starting at 2012 I thought it was a little thinner and slightly metallic compared to the others, all the beers were 10% but none of them felt that ABV at all. The 2013 edition was amazing, like liquid Battenberg cake, the flavours were balanced and again even more so than the older 2012 version the ABV was nowhere to be seen! The 2014 edition was fairly like the 2013 but not quite as good, surprisingly the flavours seemed a little softer in comparison to the 2013. All of them was good beers but 2013 won the battle hands down, was just a shame we didn’t notice that 2016 was also available on draught as we would have had that on our beer paddle too!
Before meeting some friends in the Brouwerij De Halve Maan we needed to pick up some gifts. Of course, it is rude not to get chocolate when in Bruges and my favourite chocolatier is Dumon. It is just around the corner from the Halve Man brewery so it was perfect route for us.
The restaurant and café part of the brewery is huge, set over a couple of floors the interior is modern and made up of lots of large tables. There is a huge long bar to your left as you walk in which you can either queue up to get served or from where the waiters and waitresses will be serving you from at your table, just try not to queue up just after a brewer tour turns up. This is the only place you can have unfiltered Bruges Zot Blonde and Dubbel, the Dubbel being particularly good. You can also drink the Straffe Hendrick beers which are also brewed by Halve Maan, the tripel and the quadruple both being firm favourites of mine. Unfortunately, time was running out quickly and we had to get back to the coach, after a quick visit to the brewery shop of course. A day of drinking and not eating anything but cheese had taken its toll on us and it was safe to say you could tell that I had a beer or two. After a bit of a party on the bus, a ferry ride and an hour and half passed out asleep my hangover was starting to kick in before I got back to bed! Finally getting home at midnight after setting out at 5am that morning had left me a walking zombie but even though it was only a few hours in Bruges it was all worth it.
Disclaimer – Every mentioned in this blog post was paid for by myself and my travelling buddies.