Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Halve Maan Brouwerij, Bruges: great tour, fine beer

     If there is a heaven for virtuous beer lovers, I would imagine it looking much like Bruges in Belgium's Flanders region.  Cobblestone streets crossing a network of canals, quaint old buildings; pure eye candy. Candy?  Half the stores are selling chocolates, Belgian chocolates, the other major food group this country does better than any other.  The rest of the stores sell beer, dubbels, trippels, lambics, geuzes, blonde ales, the styles invented here and now madly popular everywhere.
     In the heart of the city the Halve Maan (Half Moon in Flemish) brewery is making great beer in the same spot since 1856, through six generations of the Maes family.
 They have shoehorned a modern production plant (stainless steel vessels looking to be in the hundred-barrel capacity range ) into the old building, but the new bottling plant had to be built on the outskirts of the city, about two miles away.  Halve Maan is digging under the ancient streets and canals of the city to lay a pipeline from the fermenters to the bottling works; they claim it will be the world's longest pipeline devoted to beer.

The most popular beer made here is Brugges Zot, zot being a fool or jester (story going back to something some emperor said about the city being full of fools); it's a fruity blonde ale in the 5.7% abv range.  Another winner is their Henrik Strasse, brewed both by conventional fermentation and with wild brett yeasts.

The English language tour was led by Maggie from Juneau.  She

seems happy working here in beer heaven--but she did ask if I might have brought a bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter across the pond in my luggage! Here she is demonstrating the levels of roasting applied to the barley.
    After a quick tour of the modern equipment, the visitor is led through the old brewing setup.  Wort was cooled up on the roof in big copper tubs.  The fermenting tanks were in a horizontal alignment, each with a hatch big enough to admit a (skinny) worker to get in and clean the tanks.  A second worker stood outside to watch the cleaner, pulling him out if he passed out from CO2 or beer.
   The tour includes a glass of Zot in the elegant, canal-level dining room; I had to linger over the soup and bread with a second glass, this of the wild-yeast Henrik Strasse.  Magnificent aroma and taste!
(Visited 05-26-15)

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