Monday, September 8, 2014

Bruges: De Halve Maan Brewery

After our first big day in Brussels, we were off to another Belgian classic, Bruges. From Brussels, we caught an early train for the scenic and comfortable trip to this historic and beautiful city of red roofs and canals.

Bruges canal with swans
Arrival in Bruges

It being Belgium, we knew that beer would be involved. Luckily, a famous brewery still operates in the heart of historic, cobbled Bruges, De Halve Maan, The Half Moon, as per the logo.

De Halve Maan Logo Bruges, Belgium
De Halve Maan Logo

Just like other breweries we've visited, the tour was a healthy blend of old and new brewing techniques. Unlike some other brewery tours, this one was still in operation. First, we saw the new brewery, with gleaming stainless steel and high-tech automation. Modern equipment allows breweries to operate with much higher efficiency, less space, and smaller crews. This left a lot of room for the old brewery displays for the tourists! Yay!

We toured the upper levels and the old masing, fermenting, and bottling equipment. In the attic, we walked through a huge copper coolship, just like the one in Cantillon. These beers used to be cooled and inoculated with yeast in these big open vats, but now they use carefully-bred yeast strains to create a more consistent product.

Halve Maan Bottles Bruges, Belgium
Halve Maan Bottles

Hops on the Vine Bruges, Belgium
Hops on the Vine

Keg Lifter Halve Maan Brewery Bruges, Belgium
Keg Lifter

We climbed the attic steps onto the roof for an all-around view of historic and modern Bruges. Just like we had seen in Prague, the center of the city was the fairytale dreamland, and the outer suburbs looked like modern neighborhoods. We just focused on the canals, steep red roofs, and church steeples of the old town, thank you very much!

Bruges Canal
Bruges Canal

Church Steeples Bruges, Belgium
Church Steeples

Distant Wind Turbines
Distant Wind Turbines

After the high roof views, we walked through the basement level, set up now as a display of the progress of brewing technology. The brewery's first ammonia refrigeration compressor is on display- and it represents a huge step forward in brewing. Imagine being able to cool boiled wort to safe yeast temperature in a matter of minutes instead of overnight. How about being able to chill bottled beer in the heat of summertime on demand?

The brewing nerd in me also perked up at this little collection of hydrometers.

Hydrometers Halve Maan Brewery Bruges, Belgium

The tour, of course, ends with one of the famous beers of the house. This brewery is well knows for its family of Brugse Zot- or Bruges Fool. Like other Belgian brewers, this comes in standard, dupel, and tripel varieties- each one darker and stronger than the last.

Brugse Zot at Halve Maan Brewery Bruges, Belgium
Brugse Zot

We found that very little goes better with Belgian beer than Belgian chocolate, which we still had from the day before. Even on a cool early Spring day, we savored every little bit.

mmm... Chocolate

After our standard Brugse Zot, we had to try the darker and stronger varieties. We stepped up with a dupel Zot and a tripel Straffe Hendrik.

Dupel Zot and Tripel Straffe Hendrik at De Halve Maan Brewery Bruges Belgium
Dupel Zot and Tripel Straffe Hendrik

Wow! What flavor! These dark ales are full of hop and spice punch to offset the high malt and alcohol content. The Belgians treat their beers like the southern Europeans treat their wines, with love and care. Belgian brewers traditionally stayed away from the German Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law. This law required that all beer must contain, and could only contain barley, water, and hops.

The Belgian monks had much more freedom and experimented with cloves, cinnamon, fruit, and herbs in their beers, creating tastes that are unfamiliar but wonderful for the first time taster. Man I love this country!

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