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Pub/Bar of the Month October 2009: 't Brugs Beertje

‘t Brugs Beertje, Bruges, Belgium

‘You cannot call yourself a well-travelled beer lover until you have been here.’

Don’t take my word for it: that’s the declaration of the Good Beer Guide to Belgium, which was conceived within the walls of ‘t Brugs Beertje, an outstanding beer venue tucked away in a quiet sidestreet of the magnificent historic city of Bruges.

Daisy ClaeysThis stunning Flanders settlement, less than an hour by train from Brussels, remains gloriously unspoilt.

Ancient guild houses, civic buildings, impressive churches and other important structures crowd the cobbled streets and squares, squeezed together by the network of canals that once provided the infrastructure that helped Bruges become an important trading centre back in the 14th century.

‘The Little Bear of Bruges’ is of a much more recent vintage but is now firmly established. It was opened in 1983 by Daisy Claeys (pictured right) and her husband, Jan De Bruyne, who named their enterprise after a famous statue in the city.

Apt and Lucky

The name was very apt – ‘bear’ in Flemish is written as ‘beer’ – but the timing of the opening night was perhaps risky – it was Friday, the 13th of May. Nevertheless, it proved to be a lucky day for beer connoisseurs who have flocked here in droves over the past 26 years.

The building doesn’t tell you much from the outside: a plain green door and a couple of unpromising, half-curtained windows set into a red-brick facade. But inside, this former grocer’s shop is a shrine to great beer, decorated with old brewery advertisements that are framed by the golden-brown patina of years of tobacco smoke.

Smoking is only permitted in the small front area these days and non-smokers can escape to the back room or even the over-spill bar at the back, which opens at weekends and other busy times, but throughout, inquisitive locals and awe-struck visitors mix happily in a convivial, beer-drenched environment, with conversation the main source of entertainment.

Brugs BeertjeFrom an initial 150 bottled beers, the bar now offers around 300, all served with the proper glassware and catalogued in a detailed menu.

That should be enough to please all comers, but Daisy is almost apologetic when she tells me that she would like to stock more and is only prevented by the lack of storage space for the beers and the glasses. New beers have to wait until others fall out of favour to find their way behind the bar.

There are draught beers, too, of course. Always on sale are De Koninck, Antwerp’s famous amber ale, and Brugse Zot, produced at the local Halve Maan brewery, with seasonal and new beers pouring from the other three taps.

Everyone should pay a visit to Bruges at least once in their life. It’s one of those places that warms the soul, even with its, at times, oppressive tourist presence. Remember that, whenever the crowds become too challenging, there is a wonderful bolthole away from the throng.

Just slip away to the Little Bear, where the welcome is warm and the beer inspiring.

‘t Brugs Beertje, Kemelstraat 5, Bruges
Tel. +32 (0) 50 33 96 16
Opening Hours: 4pm–1am (2am weekends; closed Wednesday)

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