In a quiet neighborhood in the heart of Bruges is the historical Walplein, a picturesque town square that city records show has been the location of a brewery since 1562. Here, nestled in amongst the old stone buildings, is Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan where the tradition of crafting local brews is now carried on by the 6th generation of the Maes family, who’ve owned and operated ‘the Half Moon’ brewery since 1856.
The Half Moon Brewery offers wonderful tours in various languages, and the English tour was outstanding. Our guide was friendly, funny and energetic. The tour tells the story of the brew house throughout the years. You’ll walk through beer storage areas and cooling chambers, where you’ll get a close up look at equipment used in the production of the beer and other drinks made here over the centuries. A highlight of the tour was stepping out onto the rooftop and getting a ‘birds eye’ view of the surrounding neighborhood, which includes the historical Beguinhof community (more on that in a future post). But the ultimate highlight was the glass of complimentary brew at the end of the tour. Each guest was allowed one drink with many choosing to sample the brewery’s signature Brugse Zot, a fresh and fruity golden blonde artisanal ale that, as the Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan website boasts, ‘…is the one and only beer really brewed in Bruges’ town center.’Said to be unpasteurized and unfiltered, this particular Brugse Zot, is available only at the brewery, with pasteurized versions bottled off-site and distributed to area retailers. You may notice that the logo of this brew is a jester or a ‘fool’. This, so the story goes, is in homage to the moniker of Brugse Zotten (fools of Bruges) that was given to the townsfolk by Maximilian of Austria during his historical visit to the city. With this depiction of the jester, the people of Bruges show a definite sense of humor and a pride in their town and their brew.
In addition to the Brugse Zot ales, De Halve Maan also produces a brew called Straffe Hendrik, a triple ale created in 1981 for a celebration inaugurating a statue of Saint Arnold, patron saint of Belgian brewers. It’s reportedly a very strong brew, hence the name which means ‘Strong Henry’, where Henry likely refers to brewer/owner Henri Maes. The Straffe Hendrik is quite possibly, as the brewery site notes ‘the last authentic Tripel Ale of Bruges’.
According to Mike, the Brugse Zot unfiltered/unpasteurized is the best beer he’s tasted in all of his travels and he’s tried brews in over 20 countries in Europe, 6 Canadian Provinces and 40 U.S. states. Now that’s saying something about Brugse Zot…or about Mike!
Note: The tours, which take about 1 hour, require lots of steep stair climbing