In the United States, we just don’t drink like the rest of the world. I have been abroad just a few times but it’s been enough to notice it. For some reason, we look at drinking as something “grander,” not just a part of life. I have a theory on that – it’s because we as a country haven’t been around that long and alcohol hasn’t had the best relationship with us (looking at your prohibition) so we don’t just see it as a part of life.
In Belgium, they are blessed with some of the best beer in the world and it’s just what they do. I have never walked around a place a seen beer on every table like I did strolling through the marketplace in Bruges. This good beer was everywhere and was meant to be enjoyed – there were no second thoughts about it. For this reason, the very idea of leaving the market was depressing and looking back now – I’d catch the next flight. People drank good beer because it’s inherent in their daily lives.
I felt positively spoiled enjoying a Flanders red style beer on the canal – they could do it every day if they want. Well, probably not every day because us damn tourists can be annoying. Sure, the big boy brands were there (In-Bev is after all everywhere) but even at the Bottle Shop – a must visit- each person who helped me on my multiple trips beamed when talking about beer, not just local to Belgium but to Bruges.
There was an underlying appreciation for beer – it was not taken for granted. It was about the beer and not about the buzz.
Despite what you might think the trip wasn’t just about the beer. There is amazing history and art in Bruges. The city layout hasn’t been redone since the 11th century and the boat rides through the canals can only be matched by Venice. The only Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime is in Bruges. So while beer was on the agenda – the experience of Bruges is worth it.
Now, let’s get back to beer.
Best places to go and try beer if you want a local experience:
De Garre (down a secret alley – it’s a special timewarp)
De Halve Maan (full brewery review coming on that soon)
Bourgogne des Flanders
Best Place To Pick Up Local Beer:
The Bottle Shop (just off the market) they have everything, literally and a very knowledgeable staff.
Now, I have been on this journey with you all for just over a year and enjoying and learning about beer for far longer but still walked away from Bruges dumbfounded. The beer is amazing. The Quads (both De Halve Maan and yes the vaunted Westvleteren) are just above and beyond what you can get in the United States (we are getting close but we haven’t had hundreds of years of experience)
I had all three of the Westvleteren beers – the blonde, the dubbel and the quad and they are special, they are worth the hype but I also don’t think they are unattainable in their greatness. It could be the extra bonus of drinking them in their home country that pushed me into a full believer. Also, side note, don’t listen when they say St. Bernardus is right there with a Westy 12 – I did a side by side comparison and there is no comparison.
This now brings me to the sour beers. I love sour beers – if you watch me on Instagram (which you should at Hard 12 Brews) you know my adoration for all things sour. Now, I did not stay in Brussels at all this trip (it’s next time) but there was no shortage of sour beers in the local bars and bottle shops. I can say this now – I had no idea. It was humbling to drink the sours from Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen. I know we have good sours and the work that’s been doing with sours, particularly in Colorado is impressive but we are just starting to get it. Our sours are good, they can be amazing but there is something about those pucker-inducing beers from Brussels that makes you sit up and take notice. There is nothing better than taking what you know and finding out how much more there is know and drinking great beer to find out.
Until next time Belgium… because there will be a next time.