Bruges is too far north for the grapes that form such a huge part of nearby France’s agricultural heritage, but what it lacks in local wine, it makes up for with beer.
Bruges status as a capital of beer-making dates back centuries: local Belgian monasteries used to sustain themselves financially by claiming a monopoly on the production of weak beer. Such a drink was in demand; the drinking water was often so polluted that a low-alcoholic beer was the only safe option to quench a thirst.
Today, the monks’ monopoly has ended, and Belgium boasts over 1,000 different brands of beer. It’s not hard to find a bar here with 100 or more varieties on offer. But there’s only one “Brugse Zot” (Bruges Fool): the city’s local beer. The name, I learn, comes from a quip by Emperor Maximilian, then-emperor of Austria, when asked to fund the construction of a “fool's house” for the mentally ill. Maximilian had just come from the city’s annual Procession of the Holy Blood, which featured antics by numerous jesters from each trade guild. “Just close the city gates,” he joked. “Bruges is one big fool’s house!”
The Halve Maan brewery where Brugse Zot is made likewise has a long history: dating back to 1564. Revived and modernized in 2005, De Halve Maan has pioneered several award-winning beers which have placed Gold in the international Beer World Cup.
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