Brugge, Belgium: Halve Maan Brewery

We made it into Brugge (Bruges) the day after visiting the Ardennes, and though there were any number of museums we could have visited (I was hoping to return to St. Jan’s Hospital Museum, which I haven’t been to since long before my blogging days. It is a former plague hospital!), we instead ended up on the Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery tour. I had been on this before (the same trip where I visited St. Jan’s), but not for over a decade, and frankly, I didn’t remember much from the original tour other than the free beer at the end. Tours in English take place every hour on the hour for €10, including a beer, and we managed to get there just as one was starting (I’d imagine, judging by how crowded ours was in the off-season, that they do fill up from time to time, so may be worth pre-booking if you’re more organised than we were).

  

Even if I had remembered the first tour better, it was still worth going again, because a lot has changed since 2007. They have doubled their production, which created the need for a new bottling facility (everything used to be made under one roof) outside of town, which in turn created the need for a pipeline to get the beer to the bottling facility (at first, they were using trucks, which is obviously cumbersome and not the most eco-friendly way), which was opened in 2016. It stretches 3.2 km underground, and Halve Maan are clearly quite proud of it, as it was the focus of much of the tour. The pipeline actually consists of four interior pipes, two for beer, and two for water, so they can clean out the beer pipes by pumping water through, and can track a leak to within a metre of where it occurs, which is pretty impressive for something that long!

  

An important thing to know about the tour is that it has a lot of steps. We were warned before starting that there were 220 steps over the course of the tour (not all going up, fortunately), and some of the steps were so shallow that we were advised to go down backwards, which is far from my favourite thing, but I managed. The benefit of going to the top of the brewery was that it offered excellent views of Brugge, so we had no need to climb Belfort, which had the most awful steps (as I learned on our last visit to Brugge) – however, it was also incredibly windy, which was less ideal. I was very glad to re-enter the warm brewery.

  

In addition to learning about Halve Maan’s beer (which only comes in a few traditional varieties – the blonde is the one you get to taste at the end of the tour), we also learned a lot about the history of the company and about the history of brewing in the city, which to me was the most interesting part. Up until the 1950s, Belgians used to have beer delivered straight to their homes, first by horse-drawn cart, and later by trucks, and the beer industry in Brugge thrived. However, when supermarkets moved into the city, they began to drive small family breweries out of business, and now only a handful, including Halve Maan, remain. In an attempt to diversify before they were driven out of business, some of the breweries began manufacturing soda as well, which frankly is more appealing to me than beer! Halve Maan made a lemonade (I assume 7-Up style rather than still lemonade), but it was discontinued in the ’70s, much to my disappointment.

  

As I mentioned earlier, the entire brewing process used to take place under one roof, which is why the building has ended up with so many different levels, each of which used to be dedicated to a different stage of brewing. Until the 1950s, they even roasted their own malt, which was done in a room with grating on the flooring, to allow the heat from a fire several stories below to penetrate. It got crazy hot in here when the fire was going, so men would only be able to spend a minute or two at a time stirring the grain before they risked passing out (and speaking from experience, breweries are pretty damn hot in general. I worked in one during a heat wave, and it regularly topped 40 C in there, which is no picnic, and that was just from the heat of the kettle and pasteurising tubs). There was also a special room with a copper floor that the wort was pumped into to cool down to around 20 C before yeast was added.

  

Our guide also told us about the patron saint of brewing, St. Arnold, who actually became a saint because he encouraged people during a plague epidemic to drink beer rather than water, because it was safer (frankly, I don’t see what that would have done against plague, which is not waterborne, but it’s certainly good advice against cholera and intestinal parasites. I think they meant plague in the sense of epidemic disease, rather than bubonic plague specifically). A comfortable retirement as a monastic brewer seems like a solid way to get sainthood – far better than being martyred! St. Arnold is commemorated with a statue inside the brewery and in the tap room, which was of course our last stop, where we claimed our free beer. I’m not a huge fan of non-fruit beers, but Halve Maan do produce a very consistent, drinkable product, and you can’t beat their logo! The brewery was so named because the brewery originally on this site was called the Moon, and when Henri Maes took over in 1856, he decided that by calling it Halve Maan, he could include his initials and pay tribute to the brewers that had gone before (the Maes family still own the brewery). I do love a moon (I’ve currently got four tattooed on me!), so of course we picked up a poster, even though as I’ve said multiple times, I really don’t have room for more wall art.

  

Most of the rest of our time in Belgium was taken up by drinking beer, eating chocolate and waffles (and frites, sans mayonnaise), and hanging out in our unexpectedly amazing hotel room (it had two bathrooms and was bigger than my flat!), though I did force my brother to a WWI site in the form of Passchendaele 1917 Museum, which I visited on my last trip to Belgium. I won’t be blogging about it again, as it is roughly the same and still very entertaining (and moving. It’s impressive that they manage to achieve both aims), but they did add a temporary exhibition in an outbuilding on America’s entry into WWI, which I found quite interesting (the exhibition was all in Flemish, but they had free exhibition guidebooks in English). We also dropped by Tyne Cot again, since it is right by Passchendaele, and that too was incredibly sad, as always, but very worth a visit. We ended our Belgian sojourn in Brussels, where we took my brother to Delirium Cafe, enjoyed waffles near the Grand-Place, and almost missed the Eurostar back after waiting in an incredibly long queue only to get to the front and be told we shouldn’t have been waiting in the queue after all (there were no signs anywhere to indicate this. I checked), but we made it in the end. I also discovered this amazing village called Beselare en route to Brussels, where everything was witch-themed (including the Sand-Witch shop). We sadly didn’t have time to stop, but I googled it after and they apparently host a witch parade every year, so I will probably be back for that or the next Kattenstoet (2021) before long!

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11 comments

      1. Oh, what are you doing? And where to start! If it’s museums, I’m sure you’ve sussed them out already. Kelvingrove is the main one (West End, accessible from the centre via Subway) and nearby is Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum which has some medical stuff in it amongst lots of other stuff, though maybe not enough to satisfy an aficionado such as yourself 😉! It’s a great city for veggie food too, depends where you are staying. In town, Mono and 13th Note are completely veggie. Drop me an email of you have specific questions and let me know if you have time to meet up for a coffee or something. That would be great if so.

      2. Thanks Anabel! Marcus and I are coming up for a long weekend for our 10th anniversary – all rather last minute, as I was more concerned with booking a flight home for Christmas, so only just got around to planning this. We’re definitely planning on the Hunterian and a few other museums if I can fit them in. I can’t seem to find your email anywhere, but mine is divertingjourneys@gmail.com. I’d love to meet up with you at some point if you have the time, I just didn’t want to foist myself on you at such short notice!

  1. Aw, I’m sorry you didn’t get to the plague hospital. I’d have loved to see it. But the Halve Maan and its pipeline sound really neat. And I love that logo!
    Also, I was interested to hear about their beer deliveries. I think we had them here too, in my grandfather’s time. (Beer deliveries, not Halve Maan.) Funnily enough, growing up in a predominately Portuguese neighbourhood, all our neighbours would get regular soda deliveries. A huge truck would pull onto the street and each house would get three or four cases of different flavours – but always a lot of bright Orange soda. Blew my mind as a kid – in our house a Dr. Pepper or Coke was considered a treat. (Naturally this meant I spent a lot of time visiting my friend whose mom would always give me some.)
    I’m with St. Anthony – if there’s a plague raging and I can’t get outta town, I’m hitting the beer.
    I really, really want to see what that witch town and parade are like. Please go back soon.

    1. The plague hospital is mainly an art museum, with just a little section with old plague carts and stuff, but I do remember really enjoying it when I visited it, so it would have been good to revisit. I will definitely be back before too long though, so I’m not worried about it (if nothing else, to restock on chocolate. I ate a kilo box in less than a week).
      Orange soda was my absolute favourite pop when I was a teenager. My mom only let me have pop if we ordered a pizza or something, but then it was always 50/50 (I miss it now, but it definitely wasn’t my favourite when I was a kid), or if we ate in a restaurant. But like you, I had a friend whose parents bought a lot of pop, so I would go over there and drink it. And of course as soon as I got to high school, which had vending machines in the cafeteria, I would buy a bottle of orange soda every single day (and a packet of chocolate chip cookies. That was my lunch). I’m kind of grateful now that it was rationed out when I was a kid though, because I still only drink pop as an occasional treat when I eat out, rather than as an every day thing like a lot of people I know. The same can obviously not be said of my candy eating habits…

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