Welcome to Bruges – one of the most beautiful cities in the world
Now that you’re here…
How and why does a brewery build a beer pipeline?
This sounds like something out of a Simpson’s episode, reminiscent of a monorail – or better yet, Homer’s basement distillery delivering liquor via bowling balls. Jokes aside, this is far from that, in fact it’s really cool, and it’s something that only an old historical city would really require to continue operating from within the same limited infrastructure. And that’s where De Halve Maan begins.
Nestled inside the beautiful city of Bruges, sitting along the canals is the centuries old brewery Brouwerij De Halve Maan. Also known under its former name Henri Maes, the brewery started by producing sour beer, and they even have a coolship built into the roof in similar fashion to Cantillon and other Lambic brewers. In addition to this, they transitioned through different popular styles and even took some time off from brewing as different family members passed on ownership over the generations. Since 2005 they have been crafting a popular local beer known as Brugse Zot, or roughly translated into “The Fool of Bruges.” It’s a sweet Belgian Blonde ale which they feel best represents the brewery as it stands. It’s grown to become their most popular beer, and resulted in the need for expansion and increased production.
At the end of the tour, you’re also given a glass of a special unfiltered version of Brugse Zot (below), which is apparently only available at the brewery. It’s a nice way to end the tour after crawling through the damp and musty old building.
When taking the tour, you learn a lot about history and a little about beer. Though it was more designed to be entertaining than educational, it was still fun to climb through the winding narrow hallways, staircases, and through fermentation shelves (yes, they’re basically shelves of fermenters lying on their sides, as pictured below).
Of course, it’s not all old – in addition to the pipeline that you can read about everywhere in detail – they’ve recently upgraded equipment and built a new brewhouse, which is expansive and stacks vertically to fit into the facility (although I can’t remember the specific output). It’s a safe approach to traditional brewing in a limited facility, and so a beer pipeline to keep that precious beer flowing into a bottling facility outside of the city at 12mph seems like a less crazy idea.
Expanding beyond the city limits
De Halve Maan’s existence dates back to the 1800’s and it shows when strolling through the upper and lower levels. It’s likely the reason why they’ve built this massive pipeline. As I learned on the tour, it was intended to pump all the beer brewed outside of the city for bottling, as they didn’t have room so they used a different location. For years it involved loading beer into trucks, driving it outside of the limits of the city, which is surrounded by water and narrow bridges making it very difficult task as there’s really no loading area by the brewery, and then transferring it to their bottling line at the other location. So much work and time just to bottle, and at capacity – something had to be done.
From this photo below, you can see the expansive height of the brewhouse into the ceiling above. It’s really an incredible sight. We got to see a similar historical brewery at our episode featuring Yuengling from a few years ago.
Just look at the size of these mills, this was taken at eye level… probably about 8-10 feet in height.
Where the brewery is located in Bruges, it’s not meant for driving and to get this tasty beer to the people outside, a beer pipeline was just what they needed. Belgian Beer & Food posted an article about the crowdfunding of the project, including a map illustrating the path it takes. They did a great job of showcasing what’s needed and where it runs across the city, so for you city planners who want a detailed look, check that link out. Here’s a map of the brewery within city for reference. For fun, turn on Satellite imagery and zoom in.
Some more photos from the tour
What would a blog post by me without a ton of photos?! Here are some extra photographs from the tour, in no particular order. The entire walk is disorienting, though I suspect that was intentional as if we had walked down a straight hallway it would have been a 2 minute trip. When you first enter the beer garden and approach the brewery, you’re welcomed by this fancy signage posted in nearly every currency – because tourism is the king of this city… and you, well you’re just the Zot enjoying the fine beers Belgium has to offer.
It seems that the gift shop had quite a big stockpile of their Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel aging, not sure if this was the optimal location, but a nice aged quad has its place, right?
One of the benefits to a old facility such as this, is that they often keep their history with them, in the case of Brouwerij De Halve Maan, they maintain the heritage of brewing with antique equipment scattered about to decorate and educate. This old bottling line was situated in the bar area, with vintage bottles neatly laid out. It’s pretty amazing that machinery hasn’t really changed all that much, with the exception of stainless steel everything.
Some of the older fermentation tanks are massive behemoths representing a history of their previous need for space with lagering, as I believe the story was told. Henri Maes, the previous brewer and current family owner of the brewery, decided that lagers would be the best beer to brew for business, and that’s why these tanks were used.
Once you approach the upper levels of the building, the older it gets, much like your own home the attic is a place for storing things you want to keep but will likely never use… similar to these caps that have since melted together into a large metal cobweb.
Wrapping things up
It’s hard to imagine a brewery existing in this quaint atmosphere outside of such a city, and ultimately a beer pipeline fits into the quirky nature of it all. Arguably, it would have been more cost effective to construct a new brewery, and it would have been less reliant on city planning, digging, pipes, and crowdfunding, but who’s to say that a new location would have allowed this one to remain in its historical form?
For people who love tradition like Belgians, maintaining this was by design. Sure a pipeline is a goofy idea, but it fits, and it fits because of what Brouwerij De Halve Maan represents.