Here’s the thing: I’ve never particularly cared for beer. Over the years, I’ve tried, truly I have, but, inevitably, taking a sip of most beers makes me wrinkle my nose in slight disgust. I know this might sound weird to some, but beer has just never been my thing. Pass the wine, please.
That said, when traveling, I try to eat and drink like the locals do. Often in Europe, this means embracing beer. This is why, despite my aversion to the stuff, I’ve toured the Heineken factory in Amsterdam, sipped a pint of Guinness in Dublin, and enjoyed Radler in a Munich beer garden. It also explains why, in Bruges, I found myself touring the De Halve Maan brewery.
As we walked through the brewery, our guide explained the beer-making process from start to finish. We learned that De Halve Maan brews four million liters of beer per year and, like other traditional brewers, uses only naturally-preserved hops (industrial brewers, by contrast, will use chemically-preserved hops). We passed by gigantic vats used to store beer during the brewing process and were told that, when workers used to clean them, they had to whistle while they worked – if the whistling stopped, the head brewer knew that the employee had passed out from the strong fumes!
While we were presented with a lot of factual information, I have to say that I didn’t find the tour boring at all – our guide had a dry, wicked sense of humor, and I found myself frequently amused by her. Some of my favorite quips:
- After explaining that beer is 80-90% water: “So when your doctor tells you to drink more water, you know what he means.”
- Noting that hops has traces of cannabis in it: “Belgians drink lots of beer and get a weird look in our eyes, but we don’t care…because we are very hoppy.”
- Telling us to never complain about being served a frothy beer (about 3cm is the norm in Belgium) because, while you wait for the foam to subside, it gives you “time to build a relationship with your beer.”
In addition to learning about the beers and hearing many, many more jokes about Belgians and their love for beer, we climbed to the top of the brewery itself. Here, we were treated to gorgeous views of Bruges. Even if you aren’t a big fan of beer, I would say the tour is worth it for the views alone, which are lovely.
Once we had reached the top of the brewery, the truly treacherous part of the experience began. De Halve Maan, you see, is a very old building (the property dates back to 1564), and this means it has extremely tiny and narrow staircases throughout. Describing them here does not do them justice; these guys were scary! Our guide advised us to climb down them backwards, and as we began our descent, she cheerfully informed us that, “from here on, it is a kind of…survival.” Well alright then.
Luckily, everyone did survive the staircase descent of terror. As our reward, we each got to have a beer of our own, the Brugse Zot. The Brugse Zot is described as a “goldenblond beer with a rich froth and a fruity flavoring.” While the beer wimp in me could have done with a little fruitier of flavoring, I will admit that this was a pretty good beer.
Overall, I found touring the De Halve Maan brewery a worthwhile experience, and would recommend it to beer enthusiasts and beer skeptics alike. Taking the tour only reinforced to me how much Belgians love their beer, and while I will never be on their level, I can concede that the stuff might be growing on me, just a little bit.