We arrived in Bruges on another very wet day. It is a good 10 to 15 minute walk from the train station to the city centre and it did not take us long to be charmed the closer we got. Bruges is breathtakingly lovely. It is the sort of place that would bring a tear to your eye if it was snowing. There is also a good canal system running through and around the city. Venice of the North? Perhaps but I always thought Amsterdam was a better fit to that term, even though I have yet to visit. Unfortunately it was way too wet to go boating, a few hardy souls were up for it though and looked a combination of Awed misery.
Well first thing is first, Lunch time and some beer. We found a spot in a little Italian place and had a reasonably priced 3 course meal. Mrs Taleofale had the local beer, Brugse Zot Blonde which I have mentioned before. I had the Brugse Zot Brown, more on that in a moment.
Ah the wonder of modern technology. I had mapped out on my GPS App on the Iphone the only brewpub in Bruges which is De Halve Maan where they make Brugse Zot. Of course I was going in the wrong direction because in order to get the little blip to register your direction, you have move. By the time I realised I was heading away from my destination I came across this little gem of a bar called De Kuppe. I was attracted by the 100 different beers sign. OK so 100 different beers is not a mind boggling amount and probably the same or less than The Bull and Castle in Dublin, it was enough to make me go in.
I have to say I enjoyed my time here. Inside it is nothing special, a typical bar it seems. They are trying to accommodate the younger crowd by mentioning their twitter and facebook pages on a big chalk menu wall. Fair play to them for having a proper website as well, I can't read most of it but it is more impressive than many a brewery website, Well apart from the fact a lot of the links are broken at the time of writing this. They also have a TV screen showing a looped video on local brewery De Halve Maan and photo's from people at De Kuppe events as well as informative beer menu's.
On the downside, they do not serve food and it is a very smoky bar.
The sooner Belgium becomes a no smoking country the better for smoke hating beer lovers like me.
First up was the Brugse Zot Dubbel for me. This turned out to be exactly the same beer as the Brown I drank with my lunch. This is a dark brown citrus smelling beer. It tastes of citrus too and has some bite. Also dark chocolate and some caramel. It was also quite spicy. This beer was not sweet like most Belgian beers and I absolutely loved it. It is one of the more drinkable Dubbels I have had in Belgium. The fact it was not sweet meant it went down easy.
The other beer this round was a Cuvee des Trolls. This reminded me of a Caramel Apple at Halloween. Sweet, apple, caramel. There was also some Orange and coriander in there too. This was rather pleasant actually and my wife enjoyed it.
OK I am seeing a pattern here. The next two are from another nearby brewery. The Steen Brugge Beer from Palm-Rodenbach Brewery in Roeselare near Bruges. The pattern is, and this may be just me but it seems the beer I have had from this region is not the super sweet beer I have come to associate with Belgium and I like this a lot. It is closer to what I would consider "normal beer".
I started off with the Brown/Dubbel. At 6.5% it is high in alcohol but not as high as many others but is still high enough. I got a fizzy/sherbety brown sugar followed by chocolate and plum. It was very tasty I thought.
The Blonde was crisp, peppery and not sweet either.
Bourgogne Des Flandres was up next and it was dominated by Prunes along with Brown sugar sweetness. Very little else actually, not bad just not interesting and certainly the least interesting dark beer I have had in Belgium. It was soured though by the ingredients listing E300 & E150 in the list. OK perhaps I am being picky as its only vitamin C and Caramel colouring but I don't put them in my own beer so I don't see why they should. It was not a bad beer to be honest but it was not all that great. It was only 5% too.
The Slaapmutske Blonde is a somehwat standard if more spicy than normal wit with a little lemon in there for good measure. A good beer if a not very exciting one.
Nothing to do with beer but how cute is this little chocolate place? The chocolates here turned out to be the best I had in Belgium which I had in my hotel room along with some aged reserve beers.
I never made it to the Halve Maan brewery but there was little need as I had tried all their beers except Straffe Hendrik.
Next port of call was the Cambrinus Bierhaus and after going the wrong direction again, I figured out quickly enough where it was.
This place started out very promising from the moment we walked in. It looked great, was very lively and best of all it was smoke free so I could enjoy beer all night. There are over 400 beers available they say. It also became apparent that like the Bull & Castle in Dublin, this was a Gastropub where they not only combine beer and food, they use beer in the food making process such as sauces etc. I was pretty excited I must say but this unfortunately changed to one of abject horror and this was a shame as I loved the place. The service is what let this place down. First of all, unlike everywhere else I have been there is no beer menu on the table. The beer menu is incorporated in to the food menu, which you can not keep as there are only a few of them. Not so bad, but it slows down the ordering process as you do not know what you want when it comes time to order unless you write down a list of stuff to eat. And then comes the worst part, the service from the waiting staff was bad enough when ordering drinks but when it came to actually getting food it was a horrible experience. The food itself was excellent and I can not fault it. The girl who took our order, which was a set menu took it down eventually and everything seemed fine. The problem came when we were done with our main course, we were waiting for close to an hour before we managed to flag someone down and ask where are desert was? It is not that no one came near us, it is a case that we were invisible. Even if a waitress came to the table beside us, her face was always pointed away from us so I could not make eye contact. Eventually we got our desert and asked for the bill, eventually the bill came as well and it was €35 or so, which only listed the drinks. I was sorely tempted to pay the bill as it came and leave but me being honest I went up to the till and said you are missing our dinner. Needless to say there was no tip.
No was to the beers, well the Moinette Brune 8.5% was a pretty good beer to start with. Plenty of Brown sugar and Caramel sweetness but it was not overly sweet. Some toffee and spice but it was also a little bitter and had a nice sourness to it.
The Belgoo 6.6% Magus was incredibly yeasty looking with caramel evident. It was also spicy and I found it like a cross between a German Wheat and a Belgian Wit.
Next up I had an Imperial stout called (when translated in to English) Catherine the great. This was a big 10% dark ruby beer with a massive head. It smelled of Prunes, sweet/burnt Caramel. I tasted a little coffee, a lot of prune & other dry fruit, plenty of alcohol and overall it was pretty damn good but just lacking something to live up to the name and make it great.
The Saison Dupont was a pretty good Wit but that is about all I can say about it.
Lastly comes one of the best beers I have ever had. I have heard many a tale of Westvleteren 12 being the best beer in the world. In fact, in Brussels I went in to a beer shop called Beer Planet and was happy they had it, However as it turned out they did not sell it and only gave it away free as part of a promotion like spend €100 or so. Since I was flying Ryanair there was no way I could bring back any beer let alone €100 worth. I was happy to see Westvleteren 12 on the menu at Cambrinus Bierhaus but alas they had none so I settled for its little brother Westvleteren 8 and what a beer this was. It is hard to describe this beer properly. On the face of it, the beer is just like any of the many Abbey beers I have had in Belgium this trip. It was Dark, there was a some slight cherry, somewhat play-dough like but fruity, woody and all-together fabulous. Somehow they have married all the characteristics a Good Abbey ale should have perfectly. So if Westvleteren 12 is supposed to be better than this, it must be something other worldly.
Thankfully the good people at Beer Planet recommended a few other beers to me which I will talk about some other time.
I do recommend Cambrinus Bierhaus to anyone going to Bruges though, perhaps we just had a terrible waitress, although there were several floating around ignoring us. Service in Belgium seems to be universally bad, eating out is a two to three hour ordeal at any time of the day anyway. Some day I will go back to Bruges and go back to Cambrinus Bierhaus so with luck it will be a better experience. Perhaps during an afternoon would be a better time.