The better half and I were recently in Belgium to attend a conference in Brussels. This trip allowed us to visit Bruges, a city that the better half had never managed to visit on his previous trips to Belgium and a town that has been on my list of places to see for a long time.
While strolling along one of the streets that led off from the Grand Markt, we chanced upon the Beer Museum, which I highly recommend you visit, especially if you love your beer.
The better half and I love our beer. A serendipitous discovery of DIY beer in Australia fascinated the better half so much that we have been home brewing and bottling happiness and sharing it with friends and family for about ten years. So it was only right that we visited the museum.
Beer is an old drink that has been around for about 5000 years from the time of the Egyptians and Sumerians. Beer brewing was women-centric, brewed in kitchens for home consumption. Women even sold any extra brew that was left over. Women brewed till men and guilds took over all businesses, including brewing and selling beer. Over time, women stopped brewing and drinking beer as well, as it was not considered ladylike. However, the wheel of time has come back one full circle, with women today again at the forefront of brewing, drinking, owning and managing microbreweries worldwide.
Beer was consumed as it was considered safer than water! Even children drank beer in Belgium until recently. The monks of monasteries brewed beer for their consumption and it gave them the required nutrition, especially while fasting.
Bruges was at the centre of trade from about the 12th-15th century, and one of the wealthiest guild houses was the Gruuthuse (gruit house) that controlled and monopolised the buying and selling of gruit, which is a combination of herbs and one of the three main ingredients of beer making before hops replaced gruit. By the late 1600s, there were about 425 home breweries and a couple of manufacturers in Bruges. So it seems fitting to have a beer museum in Bruges, for history’s sake.
This museum is a gem in a nondescript building of historical importance on Breidelstraat, juxtaposed between touristy shops retailing chocolates, souvenirs, lace, and even diamonds.
October is the shoulder season for travel, so buying entry tickets was easy. If, after reading this post, you feel the urge to visit, I recommend that you book your tickets in advance and online. The first floor of the building houses the ticket office. Plaques, beer bottles and cans from around the world cover the walls along the stairs leading up.
The museum visit is interactive. A tablet with headphones guides you through the visit with small interesting facts and beer trivia in the form of a quiz (20 questions). (Do you know that coffee beans from a particular animal’s dung are retrieved to make beer in Japan? or that the sour Flanders Red Ale is supposed to be the world’s best thirst-quenching beer?)
From introducing you to Saint Arnold, the patron saint of brewers, the interactive guide talks about the three main ingredients in beer making and the brewing process.
You can admire a vast 3-sided wall with labelled beer bottles from all over the world, including some quirky ones. Find out all about the different types of beer, pairing beer with cheese and chocolates, know more about Trappist and abbey beers, learn the myths/facts about the beer belly and also find out if beer is good for menopausal women.
Look at the globe that shows all the beer-making countries and those that don’t make any.
At the end of the tour, you can try some beers from the 16 taps they have (the fruit beer can be avoided, please, ugh!) or buy souvenirs at the museum shop. It is possible to visit the bar and shop without doing the tour.
The manufacturer of the Japanese beer Sapporo was the first to set up a beer museum dedicated to the history of Sapporo beer. There are many other beer museums worldwide (Guinness, Potosi, to name a few). The better half who has visited the Heineken Museum says the interactive beer experience in Bruges was any time better than the other.