Brugge, brollies, and Belgian beer
Three days before we left Edmonton for Belgium, I finally found it: the jacket that would take me through the streets of Brugge and Brussels, the fields of Flanders and Waterloo, and still be suitable for browsing upscale museums and sitting in cute cafes with well-dressed Belgian women.
“This is our ‘tarmac to trail’ jacket,” chirped the Eddy Bauer sales clerk.”Stylish enough to take you wherever you want to go, but rain resistant, with a cozy lining and a hood, just in case you get caught in an unexpected shower.”
So this morning, as we head out under a drizzly Brugge sky, I smile from under my hood as the rain beads on my jacket patch pockets. Without the need for an umbrella, my hands are free to jam into my toasty side pockets. The other tourists, huddling under too small umbrellas or hastily bought blue plastic ponchos, seem woefully underprepared for the weather. All I need to do is veer around the puddles that are rapidly collecting among the cobblestones, and enjoy my walk.
Ten minutes later, as the rain intensifies, I notice the water beads have begun to melt together around my jacket seams. The cozy lining is starting to feel a little damp, and I remember that the clerk only promised me rain-resistant, not rain-proof. I begin to envy the tourists who walk underneath wide, sheltering, golf-style umbrellas, and ask Lorne how much farther we have to go.
We duck under a restaurant canopy, its outdoor tables deserted. “It has to be around here somewhere,” he says, peering at his phone. “I can smell the hops.”
We realize we’re right across the street from the De Halve Maan (the Half Moon) Brewery, this morning’s destination. Inside, we sign up for the tour that starts in 20 minutes.
De Halve Maan, in operation since 1856 under multiple generations of the Henry Maas family, prides itself on “brewed in Brugge” freshness. We follow our tour guide through warm, doughy-smelling brewing rooms, up onto the roof for a panoramic view of the town, and maneuver backwards down narrow staircases to the fermentation and storage areas.
Along the way, the guide tells us with a proud smile that Belgium is now overtaking Germany in beer making prowess: the German “purity” law means that no other ingredients besides water, yeast, hops, and barley can be used to make German beer, ensuring that one stein tastes pretty much like the next. “In Belgium, we have between 1000 and 1200 different brands of beer, all a little different. And each gets served in its own trademark glass, so you taste the beer exactly as its brewer intended.”
We’ve already quaffed a few of the local brews, so we can attest to their many flavors and modes of presentation. On our first day, Lorne quaffed a Kwak. He has also ventured into the realm of the mouth-puckering lambic beers.
Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying beers brewed by the Trappist monks. Only ten Trappist breweries still exist world-wide, and six of them are located in Belgium . I can’t decide which I like more, the beer’s rich taste or the brand’s evocative “Taste the silence” slogan.
Our tour ends with a complimentary beer in the brewery restaurant, which we supplement with a bowl of ham, cheese, and beer soup. As we step back outside, my whistle is a little wetter, my coat a little drier, and I’m ready for our next Brugge.adventure.