I stare at the menu longingly but with confusion. I want them all…every single bottle of beer on the menu at De Kuppe bar on Kupperstraat in Bruges looks appealing. But, given most sit around the 8% or 10% ABV mark, I have to concede: I will only get through a few.
The boy and I had arrived with our friends in Bruges earlier that afternoon. It was colder than cold and we had to trudge through slippery snow if we wanted to see the town.
So instead of freezing ourselves in the cultural endeavour of sight-seeing, we opted to hole up in one of the many bars the petite Belgian town has to offer, which worked perfectly for me.
You see, I am a massive fan of Belgian beer – it is almost always my go-to beer as standard. It’s generally richer (without being gut-filling like a stout), has more subtle flavours and is crisp, despite being very strong.
The history of beer from this region is equally enticing. The famous Trappist beers, for instance, began being brewed in the late 19th century by monks in monasteries. In order to be called a Trappist, the beer must still be made in the same fashion. There are six beer-producing monasteries that meet such distinction in Belgium, making brands such as Chimay, Westmalle and (my all time favourite) Rochefort.
As such, when faced with a veritable book of beers, it was hard to know where to start. I opted away from ones I knew and started with a Straffe Hendrik, which is brewed in Bruges. This dark brown tripel beer comes in at 9% and is made from six kinds of malt. It has notes of toffee and brown sugar, and lots of hop. A delicious way to begin.
I followed this with a Bush Ambrée, a hefty corker of a beer that has a wine-strength 12% ABV. The boy and a couple others joined in, swayed by the idea of drinking such a strong brew. Made in 1933, this beer is the strongest Belgian variety. But you wouldn’t know it – until you stand up of course. It is balanced between sweet and bitter, but doesn’t have the same “oomph” as the other Belgian beers I tried, despite being stronger.
Next came Judas and La Trappe Quadrupel, which I only realised later is actually from the Netherlands.
By the time I had sipped my way through those beers, it was time for bed. But with three more days in the winter wonderland of Bruges, I knew there was still time to work my way through a few more.
As luck would have it, the Bruges beer fest was going on at the same time we arrived – a fantastic and welcome surprise. Featuring more than 250 beers, it only added to the beer odyssey.
There we managed to get through nearly 30 beers – only a drop in the ocean, but a good attempt I think. We tried the Troubadour Blond and Troubadour Obscura, two I had never heard of, along with the beautiful Val-Dieu Blonde and the super hoppy Martin’s IPA. There were hoards of intriguing fruit beers, such as the Floris Fraise and Peach, or the Banana, Coconut or Mango varieties from Mongozo. Interestingly, there was also a beer aged in whisky casks – the Bravoure, which was slightly sweet and stunk of smoked cheese. Despite this, it was intriguingly pleasant.
And so the list goes on. After the beer festival, we continued on to the quaint De Garre bar, where beers such as Kwak and their 11% house beer. Maybe not the best choice after a few hours of beer drinking, but delicious and highly recommended.
By the time we departed from Bruges, I was satisfied. I may have only tried 25 or 30 beers out of hundreds, but it was a great first stab at the books of beers in Bruges. I left with taste buds satiated, utterly bewitched by the Bruges beer scene.