Upon announcing plans for a recent trip to Belgium, I was met with two reactions. Those who knew that I'm a beer guy shrugged their shoulders, unsurprised, and said "figures." Everyone else seemed taken aback. "Belgium?" they would ask, not understanding the desire to visit a country who's most popular tourist attraction is a statue of a little boy peeing. I can't say I blame them, though; even Belgium's tourism website asks "Why Belgium?" Well, the conversation that followed usually ended in five words: "beer, waffles, french fries, chocolate." These four culinary products represent load-bearing pillars of my diet, and as such, the decision to go to Belgium was an easy one.
Upon arrival, however, the decisions became less and less intuitive, as I was faced with more beer bars, fry shops, and waffle vendors than my itinerary or belt could handle. My mornings were spent researching the best of each of these to ensure no calorie was wasted at insipid tourist traps. Now, I'm only certified to speak as an authority on one of these consumables, and as much as I'd like to say that I'm a card-carrying french fry expert, I'm not. Like I said before, I'm a beer guy. And so, upon arrival in Bruges, I hit the ground running. Below you'll find my favorite spots for drinking beer in the city of Bruges.
The decor looks a bit like it came from a "build-your-own pub" kit, but any reservations about the kind of experience I would have here washed away upon perusal of the massive beer list. Messy and scattered, it is a bit hard to navigate, but treasures such as the inexpensive but above-average house Bruin, cheap bottles of Cantillon limited releases and the elusive Westvleteren line are worth the search. My order of the "hey look, a tourist" special (moules frites) was very tasty as well. This spot is my top recommendation for a comfy, reasonably-priced, beer-centric meal.
Comptoir des Arts
The hippest recommendation on this list is Comptoir des Arts, a jazz/blues club/art gallery/beer bar/whiskey bar mashup started by an ex-employee of 't Bruges Beertje. The pedigree shows, as the beer list pays respect to the classics (see: several vintages of Orval), while honoring newer Belgian innovators (such as Viven and De La Senne). Their website dares customers to "enjoy without moderation," and with around 100 beers and some very interesting whiskey, you might want to.
Feel like hanging with the young locals? The bar across the street, 't Poatersgat, is worth checking out as well. If the loud music and teenaged drinkers don't put you off, the beautiful space, comfy seating and solid beer selection might win you over. Just be prepared to duck—both of these underground bars have tiny entrances.
The best spot for vintage beer on this list is De Kelk, an odd bar about a ten minute walk from the Markt (central square). The decor is a bit tacky (but delightfully so, and in a fairly refined manner), with the usual Belgian beer signage complemented by a rack of vintage Champagne bottles and rare beer bottles peppered throughout the room. Limited and vintage releases from De Struise and De Molen were proudly featured, and the bartender happily joined me in conversation over Oude Gueuze De Cam and a 2007 De Struise Tsjeeses.
The bar doesn't open until 7pm, but if you get there early, make sure to pop into the beer shop/tasting bar De Bierboom two doors down (Langestraat 73). You won't find much in terms of the highly unusual, but the beer here is bafflingly inexpensive (Rochefort for €1.75, Orval for €1.50? Yes please), and the staff is exceedingly friendly and helpful.
Langestraat 69, 8000 Brugge, Belgium (map)
+32 472 71 32 32; dekelk.com
I'll be the first to tell you that this Belgian gift shop is cheesy. They sell a bunch of cheese here too, but I absolutely refuse to make a pun about that. You'll be drawn in by the "beerwall," a 100 foot long display case of countless beers, but I wouldn't recommend buying your brews here—the beer isn't refrigerated, and by the looks of some date codes, it's been sitting there a while. I would, however, recommend this place as a beery gift shop. Kriek lambic vinegar, Tripel Karmeliet paté, beer mustard, and Delirium Tremens hats shaped like pink elephants are all available here, and for not-insane prices. I picked up a couple pieces of glassware and some stuff for the friends back home. There's a bar out back overlooking the canals, but be warned: the beer isn't particularly exciting, and the clientele is 100% tourists.
The Bottle Shop
The best bottle shop in Bruges. Some will recommend the Bierpaleis and De Bier Tempel, but for the most exciting stuff, check out this store just off the Markt. Rarities included Drie Fonteinen's Armand'4 and Golden blends at prices consistent with or below the other big shops in town.
Wollestraat 13, 8000 Brugge, Belgium (map)
+32 (0)50 349 980
Staminee De Garre
The award for "hardest-to-find beer destination" goes to De Garre. Situated just off the main square, you may have to suck in your newly formed beer belly to get through the narrow opening to the alley where the bar is situated. Trust that the juice is worth the squeeze—this is the only place in Belgium that serves the excellent Tripel De Garre (brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge). Sweet and heady, the beer is served with a little snack of young gouda—a simple and satisfying pairing.
De Garre 1, 8000 Brugge, Belgium (map)
+32 (0)50 34 10 29; degarre.be
Brouwerij De Halve Maan
Though I'm tempted to leave De Halve Maan out of this guide, it is impossible to write a Bruges beer guide without including the brewing facility, home of the only public brewery tour in the city and makers of Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik beers. The tour, at about 45 minutes, is geared towards novices; it glazes over any actual information about the brewing that occurs there, instead focusing on cracking cheap jokes and spreading factually questionable beer mythology. For those that aren't looking for a geek-out session, however, the tour is undeniably entertaining, and the history of the brewery is certainly interesting. And at 6.50/person including a glass of the tasty Brugse Zot Blond, it's a bargain as well. Worth the stop.
't Brugse Beertje
Remember that time you walked into your buddy's house, opened his fridge, picked from a couple hundred interesting beers, and flopped down on his couch? Yeah, that's never happened to me either, but I'd imagine it would feel just like walking into 't Brugs Beertje.
Ambiance is the main draw here—owner Daisy Claeys offers a welcoming presence, and the living room-esque setting encourages conversation among strangers.
The beer list is vast, but will prove fairly unexciting for those searching for rarities or vintage bottles. While there are a handful of each of those, the list is primarily focused on representing the breadth of Belgian beer, and it does so well. I drank a Boon Marriage Parfait Kriek—an unsweetened cherry lambic unavailable in California. The only thing missing was the fuzzy slippers.
Kemelstraat 5, 8000 Brugge, Belgium (map)
+32 (0)50 33 96 16; brugsbeertje.be
A Handy Map to Beer in Bruges
View Where to Drink Beer in Bruges, Belgium in a larger map
About the author: Mike Reis is a Certified Cicerone and Co-Director of Beer at the Monk's Kettle and Abbot's Cellar restaurants in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @beerspeaks or find him behind a pint near you.