One of the main highlights of any visit to the Belgian town of Bruges (Brugge) should definitely be a tour of Brouwerij De Halve Maan, or “The Half Moon” brewery.
The medium-sized Belgian brewery that is Brouwerij De Halve Maan was founded in 1856 when Henri Maes bought over the property upon which the brewery sits on. Today, the brewery is still owned by the Maes family and is the only remaining one in Bruges that is still in operation. The brewery opened its doors to the public as a brewery museum during the 1980s, welcoming thousands of thirsty visitors through its doors ever since.
Brouwerij De Halve Maan offers some of the most organized – and worthwhile – brewery tours you’ll find anywhere in the world. The brewery is a museum in almost every sense. Aside from the fact that it needed more signs to explain each exhibit, you can learn almost everything about brewing beer, De Halve Maan’s brewery, and the history of beer in Belgium, in a visit.
It’s best to visit the brewery during weekends, when they conduct tours every hour (although they do tend to separate groups by language). Our friendly lady guide, though, was quite up to the task: she smartly split our group into those speaking English, French, and even Dutch, and gamely explained exhibits in these languages. It took longer, but no one could go away saying that they didn’t understand anything from the tour.
But there’s a great reason why Brouwerij De Halve Maan is a must-visit and where you get great value from the 6 Euros you pay for the brewery tour – access to the rooftop of the brewery, which offers a marvellous view of the town of Bruges.
You’ll catch sight of many familiar landmarks – Bruges, after all, is a rather small town. Beyond the fermentation tanks, you can spot the river boats (stuffed with tourists) cruising down the many canals that crisscross the town.
You’ll also find, on the way back down from the rooftop, a statue depicting Saint Arnold of Soissons, the patron saint of Belgium’s brewers and hop pickers. Saint Arnold, who founded the abbey of St. Peter in Oudenburg, was a brewer in the 11th century and he was one of those who realized that drinking beer – at that time – was actually healthier than drinking water (the boiling process during beer-making killed pathogens). Thus Arnold undoubtedly saved many lives in encouraging people to drink beer, and was later sainted by the Roman Catholic Church.
At the end of the tour, we were all brought to the large, open dining rooms, where we finally got to try the beers. You get one beer free that comes along with the tour.
One beer that we had to try was the Brugse Zot, which is the one truly brewed here. The blonde pale ale had a beautifully fruity aroma and a refreshing dryness that was perfect on the warm day we were visiting.
If you’re wondering, Bruges Zot means “Bruges Fool”. According to legend, the name came about when Emperor Maximilian of Austria – who ran Flanders during that time – rejected to sponsor a mental institution in the town. He reportedly then called the people of Bruges ‘fools’, and the name has since stuck.
Interestingly, Henri Maes of De Halve Maan accepted money from his uncle Canon to restart the brewery in 1856. At that time, Canon was head of the Mental Illness Institute – so one can say that De Halve Maan really owes its roots to ‘fools’!
You’d be a fool too, if you don’t visit De Halve Maan.