People often think of four things when they think of Belgium - waffles, fries, chocolate, and, of course, beer. We ate plenty of the first three while in Bruges, and toured a brewery to make sure we got the full experience for the latter. In Bruges, there is a 150 year old, family owned, brewery that offers multiple tours a day in multiple languages. It's called De Halve Maan, which means crescent moon in Dutch. We opted for their "XL" tour which lasts twice as long as their normal tour and includes a sampling of not one of their beers, but four. It was an easy decision :)
The tour starts off in a room with four tanks - the mash tun, the lauter tun, boil kettle, and the whirlpool tank. It then continues up a set of stairs to where the grain is stored and measured. The whole brewery was recently refurbished, but they were required to maintain the external appearance of the building. As a result, much of the brewery retains its original bones and building construction, but with updated equipment inside.
The tour continues up more sets of narrow stairs, through different parts of the brewery that are no longer in use. In one room, a display of their old bottling operations is set up. At the very top of the building, we climbed one last set of steep, narrow stairs on to a large copper air cooler right before climbing through a short door and out on to the roof. The wind was whipping that day, but the sun was shining and the view over Bruges was amazing. Thankfully, we weren't out there too long before we headed back inside.
From there, we climbed back down the narrow staircase (is it just me or is it easaier to go up steep, narrow stairs than down them?) and continued on to see a small display with old bottles and other memorabilia spanning the 150+ year history of the brewery. The brewery has been owned and operated by the same family since its founding in 1856 and we were given a brief over view of the history.
We continued climbing down more sets of steep stairs, some so steep that we were required to go down backwards which is quite a challenge when you have a baby strapped to your chest, to see where the beers were once cooled, fermeted, aged, and stored before being bottled. Today, bottling operations are done outside of town, but the beer is still brewed in the city center. Currently, a pipeline connecting the two is being constructed to connect the brew house with the bottling plant, thus eliminating the need to truck the beer between the two facilities.
As with any good brewery tour, we got beer at the end. And let's be honest, the tour is cool, but it's the beer at the end that attracts most people. On the XL tour, we got to try 4 of the beers they currently brew (the normal tour includes 1 type): the Bruges Zot blond, Bruges Zot Dubbel, Straffe Hendrik Tripel, and Straffe Hendrik Quadruple. One word of advice: don't go on an empty stomach. The tasting volumes are pretty close to a full beer, and drinking a dubbel, followed by a tripel and then a quadruple means its highly possible to leave much more inebriated than you would expect.
Tours at De Halve Maan are organized in a number of languages multiple times a day, but the XL tour is only offered in English once a day at 2PM. You can book tickets, which cost 19 euro per person, on their website. Aaron and I have been a number of brewery tours, and this one was definitely one of the most interesting ones that we have ever been on. And it certainly had some of the best beer!