A handful of the good beer establishments we visited had impressive lineups of cellared/vintage beers. One such place was Erasmus, a modern, sleek hotel/restaurant that doesn’t necessarily fit with Bruges’ medieval vibe. It looked and felt like it would fit better in a place like Paris, but the beer list was very worthy.
I walked past Erasmus on the way to a generic Irish pub to watch a soccer game, while Mrs. Beernerds took a nap in the hotel. When I saw the cellar menu I just had to stop in, and I luckily had about 40 minutes before kickoff.
My timing – it was the middle of the afternoon – was perfect, and when I walked in I was the only customer in the place. I asked the waiter if it was OK to sit down for a beer, and he gave me the green light and their beer menu. One bottle immediately jumped out at me: De Dolle Stille Nacht 1986. I had read about Stille Nacht (Silent Night) before, and since this was the first time I had ever seen a 25-year-old beer for sale, I quickly ordered it.
The waiter pointed out that the beer was in their cellar, meaning it would not be cold. I appreciated the warning, but was obviously even more excited about this beer, especially as I had never before been to a place with a true cellar.
Since I was drinking alone, I took full tasting notes. Here they are, mostly unedited:
Reddish caramel, bright and clear. No head on the pour, tiny bubbly ring. Body is fizzier than it looks, but still quite smooth and somewhat full. Smells of sweet port, prune juice, some leather and booze. Candied sugar, hint of spice. Fruity, dry, a touch of sneaky sour in the back, finishes somewhat ashy/dirty. Surprisingly smooth despite the obvious heft (12%). I like the smell slightly better than the taste, if only because I don’t love the sour touch in the back. But I don’t mind it either. Really interesting, certainly enjoyable too. A sipper for sure. Could smell it for days too. Careful pour from waiter left 1/5th of the bottle behind. I poured that into the empty glass, predictably sludgy with lots of floaters.
I would have loved to savor it for a while longer, but kickoff was fast approaching. I paid (9.50 euros, which I thought was a very good deal), and rushed off to the pub, where a bottle of Duvel and a pint of Guinness kept me company through the game.
Later that night, we went to another truly great beer bar, ‘t brugs Beertje. It’s small (with room for ~20 people in the front room, maybe 10 people at the bar, and another 15 in the back room), meaning it’s one of those European places where you and your neighbors are pretty cozy. It wasn’t far removed from the main square, and even though our immediate neighbors were Italian and Scandinavian, and the loud conversation at the bar was in English, it felt like a locals place. The walls and ceiling were covered in a wide range of beer signs and nostalgic paraphernalia, which was very cool.
From the extensive menu, I quickly picked out a Rodenbach Grand Cru, a classic Flanders red. Many of you know I’m not a huge fan of sour beers, but they’ve been growing on me. Plus, I was dead-set on taking advantage of the opportunity to try beers such as this one, even though I knew I probably wouldn’t love it.
The Rodenbach Grand Cru reminded me somewhat of my “gateway” sour, Petrus Aged Pale (a Flanders Oud Bruin), although there are some key differences since they’re slightly different styles. The Grand Cru is darker, with vinegar and cherries at the forefront. Sour is the name of the game, though. I enjoyed it, and would love to drink it again.
While I was working on that, Mrs. Beernerds had ordered her first sour, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. We didn’t expect her to love it, but she wanted to at least try some traditional lambics, if only to compare them to the sweetened lambics that she enjoys. As expected, this wasn’t up her alley, or mine for that matter. But I was thrilled to finally taste a Cantillon brew, and it certainly wouldn’t be our last. You’ll hear all about Cantillon and traditional lambics in a couple of days.
For my last beer in Bruges, I opted for another vintage selection, this time of a beer I’ve had before: a 2008 De Struise Pannepot Reserva. I’m a huge fan of De Struise, and this is one of my favorites. It’s a big, dark, oak-aged old ale with plenty of character, and it’s one of those old ales that really feels and tastes “old”, and I mean that in a good way.
I didn’t have access to my notes, so I couldn’t compare my impressions with the fresher bottle I drank previously. But it was a very good beer, and a worthy finale after two great days in Bruges.