The town directory of Bruges mentions Die Maene brewery at Walplein (wall square) as early as 1564. From 1856 onwards, when Leon Maes (also known as Henri I) acquired the building, we can begin to talk about the modern brewery we know today.
An artisan brewer, he made a slightly-sour, top-fermented beer that was served from the barrel. Leon passed away in 1867 and his sons Henri II and Achère took charge. Henri II crossed the Channel to England where he learned the latest brewing techniques and it wasn't too long before the brewery launched its own stout and pale ale.
Unfortunately both brothers died at a relatively young age and it was up to their widows to steer the brewery safely through World War I. Henri III took over the in 1919. He learned all the secrets of the brewing trade and, in Germany, discovered bottom-fermented beers. As a result, the brewery launched its own Bock pils beer.
After World War II, De Halve Maan acquired the adjacent Brugge Zeehaven brewery. After several renovations the current brewery site, with its traditional cooling basin, large malt floor and oasting equipment, began to take shape. Henri IV began to get involved in the brewery in the 1950s as the company went through a period of strong growth.
The inauguration of a Sint-Arnoldus (the patron saint of hop pickers and Belgian brewers) beer in Bruges prompted the launch of a strong, top-fermented beer in 1981, this was named Straffe Hendrik.
This beer was a tribute to generations of Maes men, all named Henri or Hendrik, and who all worked in the development of better beers.
The brand was acquired by a different brewery in 1988 and the name disappeared for a few years. Véronique Maes, the daughter of Henri IV, started restoring the historic brewery site in the 1980s; the former bottling plant and maltings were transformed into cafés and restaurants.
Since 2005, De Halve Maan has been treading a new path under the guidance and leadership of Xavier Vanneste, Véronique’s son. The old brewing equipment was thoroughly refurbished, modernised and production was resumed.
In 2005 Xavier introduced a new city beer, Brugse Zot and at the end of 2008 De Halve Maan re-acquired the rights to use the Straffe Hendrik name.
The brand returned to Bruges, where it is once again brewed to the original recipe; the city had its own authentic triple back.
This has since been complemented with a storage beer called Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel, and the oak-matured Straffe Hendrik Heritage. Overall, De Halve Maan produces between 3,500,000 and 4,000,000 litres of beer per annum.
These beers are brewed with real pride. The Brugse Zot Blond, introduced in 2005, is the flagship beer, accounting for 60% of production. This blonde is quite well hopped (26-27 IBU) for a thirst-quencher. It is brewed using Styrian Golding and Hallertau hops and, with four different malts (pils and speciality), has plenty of body.
One of the brewery’s own yeasts is used with a second yeast variety that promotes re-fermentation in the bottle - beer destined for the barrel does not re-ferment.
The Brugse Zot has the time to develop at leisure. Its production, including re-fermentation, takes six to eight weeks.
A darker, slightly heavier version of this flagship beer has also been introduced, a 'dubbel' of 7.5% ABV. Brugse Zot Dubbel is brewed with Saaz hops from Zatec in the Czech Republic, which gives the beer a unique bitter touch.
However, for once let us not dwell on the hops, Brugse Zot Dubbel is mainly dominated by the six(!), yes six, different and specially selected malt varieties. Straffe Hendrik degustation beer is a well hopped and malty 'tripel à l’ancienne'. A dark blonde, it fits perfectly into the Bruges tradition. However, Straffe Hendrik has also been the basis for innovation. A dark quadrupel version was launched in 2010, and there is also an annual edition of Straffe Hendrik Heritage, matured in oak barrels, that is only available on a very limited scale.
The newest addition is the Straffe Hendrik Wild, re-fermented using wild yeasts (Brettanomyces).
This is how this classic tripel acquires its fresh and dry character with slightly sour and tart touches taking centre stage.
The brewer has taken a considered decision to keep the number of these limited editions small, so their credibility is never in doubt. The brewer does not shy away from innovation, but he likes to remain rooted in tradition and won’t betray the inherent characteristics of the mother beer.
All of the De Halve Maan beers are crafted in Bruges’ historic city centre. This is another conscious decision. Brewery staff and visitors are literally wandering amongst the brewing kettles. The brewer is treading in the footsteps of his predecessors in a location that has a history of brewing going back over 500 years.
This respect for tradition does not get in the way of change, though. A new brewing hall, capable of producing 10,000,000 litres, was inaugurated in 2014. Building credibility is a long-term process, and this applies to breweries just as it does to the great wine makers.
As President of the Belgian Family Brewers association, Xavier Vanneste is instrumental in protecting the good name of all Belgium’s brewers. He is proud of his beer - ‘fier op zijn bier!’ - just as a chef would be proud of his cuisine.
Xavier Vanneste must be delighted that the best Belgian specialty beers are now getting the praise they are due, and an important role in gastronomy. There are plenty of reasons why Bruges is considered one of the major beer cities of the world.
Many well-known chefs from Bruges, including for example Gert De Mangeleer of the three Michelin-starred restaurant Hertog Jan, use beers from De Halve Maan in their recipes and pairings.
A visit to De Halve Maan is a journey through centuries of Bruges’ brewing history. Our story starts in a splendid interior court, a great location for a meal on a sunny day. From the restaurant you can see the brand new brewing hall through a glass wall.
You will also see the boats floating by on the Bruges canals, called reien after the local river, the Reie. The tour itself will give you an in-depth understanding of the brewing process.
Experienced guides take you through a contemporary working city brewery, with its hi-tech brewing hall and tanks used for filtering, fermentation and lagering. The brewery museum explains the rich brewing history of this city. Guided tours are held every day and include the brewery as well as the museum. The brewery’s rooftop has a splendid view of Bruges city centre, including the nearby Begijnhof (a beguinage, a type of religious community for women) and the Minnewater.
Guided tours of the brewery start every hour on the dot, take 45 minutes and are available in different languages.
Regional dishes and beer cuisine are on the menu in the restaurant or on the terrace, either before or after your visit.
New menus are presented daily, based on what is in season and what is in harmony with the beers on offer. De Halve Maan also takes its place in the culinary tradition of using their beer in certain recipes, with its own Brugse Zot cheese, pâté and croquettes, all made using the beer. The brewery organises regular events such as themed parties, peasant-style buffets or tasting menus with numerous courses to enjoy.
Bruges celebrated its heyday in the Middle Ages and its majestic buildings in the late Gothic style bear testimony to this golden age. The flourishing local culture of the time is also demonstrated by the prolific output of Flemish Primitive painters such as Jan Van Eyck, Hans Memling, Hugo Van der Goes, Dirk Bouts and Gerard David.
The entire centre of Bruges has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Step into a horse-drawn carriage or take a boat trip along the reien (canals) of the Venice of the North and travel back in time more than 500 years.
Enjoy splendid views from the roof of De Halve Maan or the 80 metre-tall Belfort tower, built in 1300, with its carillon, an arrangement of bells. The Historium located in the market square (Markt) lets you experience the Burgundian grandeur of days gone past.
The former Post Office now houses a beer museum. The whole Burg area is steeped in history. Visit the mansion of the Brugse Vrije, the council that was in charge of the city in the Middle Ages, with its handsome boardroom, the Schepenzaal. Also worth visiting are the Town Hall and the Heilig Bloed basilica with its relic said to contain the blood of Christ. The reliquary containing it is driven around the city centre during the annual Procession of the Holy Blood in May. The collections of the Groeningemuseum include paintings by artists Jan Van Eyck and Gerard David. The Diamantmuseum tells you everything you want to know about how diamonds were processed and traded in medieval times.
The impressive Gothic palace of the Heren van Gruuthuse is now home to the famous Gruuthusemuseum for archaeology and applied arts.
The Sint-Jans hospitaal gives a vivid picture of the goings-on in a medieval hospital. It also displays works by the 15th-century painter Hans Memling. The church of Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe is one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in the Low Countries. The museum of the Cathedral of Sint-Salvator contains works by Dirk Bouts and Hugo Van der Goes among others.
Getting There & Around
Bruges is situated in the west of Belgium, one hour’s drive from Brussels and Antwerp and 20 minutes away from the seaside resort of Ostend. The train journey from Brussels takes around one-and-a-half hours. Bruges Central Station is at walking distance from the historic city centre, which is best explored on foot or by bike.
If you are keen on walking we can recommend the Ter Doest trail (6.3 km). You start walking from the village of Lissewege, located nearby in the flatlands of the reclaimed polder, and make your way towards the Boudewijnkanaal, a canal that connects Bruges with the sea port of Zeebrugge.
You walk in a rural landscape with splendid views across the extensive polder landscape all the way to the coast, and wander past the historic Ter Doest abbey site.
Exploring Bruges and its surrounding areas by bike is also worth the effort. After barely 13 minutes’ cycling you reach Damme, a small city with plenty of its own history to offer: a Gothic town hall, 16th-century De Grote Sterre mansion, the Uilenspiegel museum telling the story of a popular local hero and the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Hemelvaart church bearing testimony to a flourishing medieval society. The area around the town is also home to historic farm houses and the beautiful nature reserve of Oude Stadswallen.
Gastronomy, Food & More Beer
“To feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink is a matter of honour”. In Bruges this is far more than just a quotation. Entire armies of tourists melt at the sight of local chocolate and many many more delicacies, while the native Bruggelingen and informed foodies from around the globe know where to find the very best restaurants.
Bruges is a chocoholic’s heaven with over 50 chocolate shops. There is something for everyone: origine chocolate – the finest dark chocolate from the best producers – or milk chocolate, in all shapes and tastes.
This sweet picture would not be complete without the classic pralines. Is there anything more characteristically Bruges than achten, lukken, kletskoppen or beschuit? The Brugse Achten biscuits go back to the times of Mary of Burgundy in the 15th century.
She asked bakers to produce a hard but sweet cake. Sausage-shaped dough was formed into figure-of-eights and the rest is history. Brugse Beschuiten turn out to be toasted stale bread or cake with a sprinkling of freshly ground candy sugar. True Burgundians like to pair them with a tasty brie – preferably runny – or an époisses cheese. Cheese lovers won’t come here in vain. There is the hard Oud Brugge cheese that matures for no fewer than 12 months and the soft Brugge Blomme with its crispy, copper-coloured crust.
There is a wide choice of restaurants, ranging from simple diners to three-star restaurants. Bruges has turned into a culinary destination thanks to the solid foundation provided by the hotel schools.
The well-trained chefs who emerge from them start up their own businesses. Finally, beer lovers will also find plenty to enjoy. Bruges has a number of specialist beer stores where you can purchase all the well-known Belgian beers as well as rare and obscure brews. Try them out in specialty beer cafés dotted all around the city centre, from basement pub to brown café and tavern.
Tourist information for Brugge: