BRUGES - The city of Bruges not only has an excellent reputation with tourists but it is also a resounding name amongst beer lovers all over the world. Previous editions of the annual 'Brugs Bierfestival' were so successful that the organiser, beer tasters’ association BAB, was compelled to swap its usual location, the old City halls near the Belfort, for the more spacious Beurshal located at ‘t Zand.
As many as 76 Belgian breweries and beer firms gave acte de présence in early February. There were 30 launches and 60 new beers (launched since 2013) were introduced.
There was also a special Festival beer: the BAB Mystère (7.4% ABV) brewed by Strubbe. Brewer Marc Strubbe conjured up no fewer than seven varieties from his brewing kettle. The BAB judged all of these on colour, froth, aroma and taste.
After much deliberation they selected a well hopped blonde, brewed with four varieties of malt (Munich, pale ale, pils and biscuit) as well as a Belgian Styrian Golding and Hallertau Herzbrucker hops. For the dry hopping, the Cascade, Nelson Sauvin and Amarillo varieties were used. It is immediately obvious that the Bruges beer scene is a fast-moving one. You have an established brewery such as De Halve Maan (Brugse Zot, Straffe Hendrik) but then you have newcomer Fort Lapin.
Fort Lapin offered a number of variants of its Fort Lapin (one of them using hibiscus) and the Brugse Bierinstituut is making a splash with current interpretations of traditional beer styles, including West-Vlaams Roodbruin (Galbert van Brugge, 6% ABV). The same applies to beer firm Bryggja (Amuse).
“This may not be the largest beer festival but the quality of the exhibitors is very high”, comments BAB President Marc Vandepitte. “We are expecting around 12,000 visitors. Last year, we counted 42 different nationalities and this year there will be at least as many”.
A new programme element is the attention given to food pairing, explained, amongst others, by Bruges chefs Geert De Mangeleer (three-star restaurant Hertog Jan) and Achim Vandenbussche (of beer restaurant Den Dyver, which recently closed its doors).
The BAB Babbels sessions – only available in Dutch for the time being – allow lambiek brewers Armand Debelder (3 Fonteinen) and Willem Van Herreweghen (Timmermans) as well as others, to give their views on oude geuze.
Bruges’ rich beer history is discussed in detail at the conférence Q&A session led by vzw ‘t Haemerken. In the street, graffiti artists are using their creative talents to produce a vivid homage to André Demeulemeester.
He used to manage Aigle Belgica in Bruges, after Rodenbach the second largest brewery in West Flanders and known for its Aigle Pils. Aigle Belgica shut its doors in 1978 and ended up being enveloped by the Interbrew family, the later AB Inbev. Demeulemeester was not only a brewer: he also painted and drew cartoons. His creative legacy includes around 1,500 works of art.
On my way to the Beurshal it seems that I have lost my way in the Tower of Babel. I follow the trail of the beer lovers and enter the Hall under the approving eye of the giant called Jules, who has been patched up for the occasion. Around noon there is still some space left in the aisles.
The atmosphere livens up straight away with the familiar gnome hats (La Chouffe), fool’s caps (Brugse Zot) and pink elephants (Delirium Tremens). There’s a daredevil who is no doubt melting away inside a foxes’ outfit.
Even the bravest amongst us will not manage to last until the evening without a goodly quantity of beer. At the bar, you will come across some surprising ‘limited editions’ festival beers produced by the established breweries.
Bockor, who changed name recently to Omer Vander Ghinste, is pouring their new Brasserie Lefort, Dilewyns is passing the Vicaris Winter 2013 across the bar, at Marsinne’s the Léopold 7 is flowing,
Timmermans is serving the 2013 harvest of its krieklambiek, Van Eecke offers its Hommelbier Fresh Harvest 2013, Dochter van de Korenaar, the Extase. No lack of resounding names. Judge for yourself: Eutropius (Stafke and Invasion), Malheur (Malheur Dry Five and Special Edition Ltd. Brut), Brouwerij Het Gulden Spoor (Zonde Buk), Millevertus (La Papesse and La Zanzi), Den Triest (Tripa).
Alvinne is trying to get into the record books by putting ten beers on the list, from Balthazar Oak Aged and Beer Geek Wedding III – what’s in a name? – down to Sigma whereas the brothers-in-arms from the De Struise Brouwers swear by their Pannepot and Pannepeut 2013 and also throw their Elliot 2013 into the battle. These two brewers have come armed with the largest arsenal of taps to win the quest for the thirsty customer.
There’s always room for some nostalgia. Struise Brouwers are providing a link to the past with their Imperialist and Royalist. In the meantime, Het Anker is entering the battle with its Gouden Carolus Expo 58, paying homage to the legendary World Exposition that was held in Brussels in the same year with the Atomium still the most famous witness.
Newcomers to the brewing trade include Bertinchamps (Bertinchamps Triple) and Brasserie des Carrières (Diôle). The army of beer firms is further reinforced with Broeder Jacob (Brut Rosé), Brouwers Verzet (Oud Bruin 2013 and Golden Tricky), De Bierboom (Bierboom), Halen (Dubbel and Tripel Mariënrode).
But also: Gageleer (Bufo), Henricus (Paljas Bruin and IPA), Het Alternatief (Château Migraine), Slaapmutske (Xmas 2013 and Witbier), Stokhove (Waardamse tripel), d’Oude Maalderij (Redenaar), Vliegend Paard (Préaris Quadrocinno).
I need to zap from channel to channel all the time. Will I go for a traditional lambiek, an unknown roodbruin, a beauty matured in wooden barrels or one with a tasty touch of hibiscus?
Nothing like a wide choice like this to make you thirsty. Cheers!