Monday, August 15, 2011

De Bier Tempel and More Brugge Beer

Last week I told you about the fabulous Bierbrasserie Cambrinus in Brugge, Belgium.  There are a number of good beer places in Brugge -- it is located in the beer-obsessed region of Flanders, after all -- so this time I'll expound on a few of them we visited during our short stay there.

De Bier Tempel

First I want to relate to you a story about the miraculous power of beer, and the shrine to fermented grain known as De Bier Tempel (no translation needed).  How's your attention span?  Got room for more than 140 characters?  Here goes...

Driving into Brugge from Amsterdam, of course we took a wrong turn just as we got into town.  Actually, we do this everywhere we go: it's my superpower.  In the small French town of Bléré we were lucky enough to spot a roadside tourist map that set us straight.  Driving into Paris, our wrong turn led us into a nerve-wracking ninety-minute waking-life stress dream meandering through the suburbs before we got back on track.  Amsterdam was a cinch: we went the wrong way on the ring road around the city, but since it's so compact, we just completed the circle and it only took us about 20 minutes longer to get where we were going.

We didn't have a map of Brugge, but I thought the town was small enough that eventually we would run into a street that looked familiar from the driving directions I printed out. We never did. When Carla accidentally drove right out onto the no-cars-allowed main square, she carefully backed out of it and informed me in no uncertain terms that we were going to take the desperate measure of asking a fellow human being for help.  "I'm parking this [inaudible] car right here, and you're asking directions from the first person who looks nice."  Yes, dear.

There happened to be a man standing in the doorway of the shop we had just parked in front of.  I smiled at him and nodded good day through the car window, and he nodded back before going inside.  That must be the nice person Carla was talking about, I thought to myself.  When I got out of the car, I looked up at the sign above the shop: De Bier Tempel.

My jaw dropped, because before we left on our trip, Pub Night buddy and soon-to-be contributor msubulldog put me in email contact with his friend Regnier who does Belgian beer tours and who also works in a Brugges beer shop -- none other than the aforementioned Bier Tempel.  I dashed into the store.  "Are you Regnier?!?" "No, I'm Serge, but Regnier is in the back." Long story short, we accidentally landed on the doorstep of the one person we had a connection with in town, it was five minutes to quitting time, and he was kind enough to squeeze into the car with us and navigate us to our hotel.  That is the power of beer.

De Bier Tempel is a nice little bottleshop.  A great selection of bottled beer is on the shelves, and they sell glassware from nearly any Belgian brewery you can think of.  You can drink a bottle in the store, though I was kind of surprised that we weren't offered a glass.  I suppose they would have to insist on it being exactly the right glass, and a small shop can't keep one from every brewery in circulation.  That, or they don't like doing dishes.  So we swigged right out of our bottles as we browsed the store.  There are a few kept cool in a refrigerator, but the shelves full of unknown-to-us beers were what drew us in.

De Bier Tempel also stocks various beer-related souvenirs and snacks.  We were tempted by the autobiography of Pierre Celis, but found that the English title "My Life" belied the fact that the book was written in Flemish, so instead I walked out with a cheesy deck of playing cards, each with a different Belgian beer on it.  Check out De Bier Tempel for some of your Brugge beer shopping, though I can't guarantee that they'll escort you to your hotel.

Staminee de Garre

The historic main square in Brugge is lined with brasseries, but none of them looked appealing enough for us to get over our resistance to their high prices.  Instead we sought out the tavern called Staminee de Garre, which is located down an alley whose entrance looks like a doorway into an adjacent building.  I looked for De Garre all day on our first day in town, and finally found the place on the second day.  Beer Nerds has some good pictures of both the entrance to the alleyway and the inside of the tavern towards the bottom of this post.

It's a cool looking old tavern, and pretty small.  When my daughter and I popped our heads in, the barman shooed us out sternly.  "No.  No.  We're full."  This is not unusual for customer service in Brugge.  Don't take it personally, the place is overrun with tourists from around the world, and I'm sure they -- we -- become a nuisance after a while.  The two of us went and brought Carla and our other daughter over, just to show them the cool hidden alleyway.  About that time a party of five or six walked out of the Staminee, so when Carla peeked inside the barman gloomily indicated to her a table where we could sit.

De Garre has four or five nice things on tap -- including the "house" tripel brewed by Van Steenberge served in a satisfyingly hefty snifter -- and a nice bottle selection.  We were amused at the little dish of cheese cubes with toothpicks that arrived with the beers.  A certain amount of food was available, though it seemed to be more of a drinking bar than a restaurant.  They also have a large rack of ceramic bottles of aged genever on the wall which we weren't brave enough to dabble in.  Great atmosphere; it's a nice place to have a beer or two.

't Brugs Beertje

I've been a little critical of customer service when talking about De Garre and Cambrinus, but I don't mean to single them out.  In Brugge you're just as likely to be brought to tears by the waffle lady or the clerk in the chocolate shop as by your waitress or bartender.  For example, as we tugged for a few minutes at the locked door of one shop -- well within the posted opening hours -- a worker inches away behind the glass grimly continued her shelf tidying task while studiously avoiding any acknowledgment of our presence.

Of course, every stereotype has exceptions, and I found a notable one in this case during my all-too-brief visit to the classic beer bar 't Brugs Beertje.  The folks behind the bar at the "Little Brugge Bear" were smiling, patient, and joking around with the patrons. I was only able to stay for a quick Straffe Hendrik tripel before my hungry and cranky womenfolk came to fetch me off to dinner, but I can see why this place is on everyone's list of must-visit bars in Brugge. The friendly staff and cozy, pubby atmosphere make it a place where you could stay for hours.

We were only in Brugge for less than 48 hours, and not specifically on a beer mission. Even so, I enjoyed what I saw of the beer there, and wouldn't mind spending more time exploring it.


  1. You've become a blogging machine! I encourage more world travel.

  2. Thanks! I would travel full time if I could support a family on that kind of work.