Cambrinus is only a stone’s throw from Bruge’s famous Markt – the square around which all touristy things seem to revolve. The old bell tower, bike tours, restaurants and friteries all vie for the attention of visitors – but a short stroll away down Philipstockstraat is a tremendous distraction – Beerbrasserie Cambrinus. The old wood effect frontage gives way to a modern-looking bar bistro with brass fittings and a large bar, well-stocked fridges behind. The night we were there a large contingent of drunken Spaniards were belting out songs in what seemed like an opportunistic session – supported by guitars, bongo drums and – of all things – a kazoo player. But they added to the atmosphere rather than detracted from it, and we managed to get a table in the window and (most importantly) one of the hefty wooden-backed beer menus.
And what a menu – I don’t know exactly how many beers it contained, but there were hundreds I’d never heard of. Unlike the famed Delirium Café in Brussels they were all Belgian; all local. I’m certainly in favour (in theory) of a place like Delirium with over 2000 beers, but would much rather have a few hundred that I could only find in the country I was in (and that’s actually what we drank in Delirium too, as it happened – but stay tuned for that post later). The Cambrinus menu was arranged by style – Trappists, Wheat Beers, Fruit Beers, Darks, Blondes etc. There was even a small section of bespoke Belgian lagers. However, the largest section was ‘speciality’ beers – so given only a limited time, it was there I invested my energy.
Bink Bruin (5.5%)
Brouwerij Kerkom, Sint Truiden
I started off with a brown ale – one of Belgium’s most classic styles. Being from Northern Britain I’ve something of an affinity with foamy brown beers, although of course the Northern Belgians do them slightly differently (as with everything else). A totally random selection, Bink Bruin hails from the Brouwerij Kerkom in Sint Truiden, roughly forty miles east of Brussels. It poured a very dark chocolate brown colour, with a rapidly disappearing head. I was expecting something sour, but Bink was dark roasty malt with a portery taste. It wasn’t too strong or bitter, similar to UK porters, and shared that bittersweet malty aroma. There was a hint of caramel about it too, that stayed within acceptable limits (for my palate). It was very drinkable, certainly – a session Belgian ale, maybe?
Adelardus Dubbel (7.0%)
Brouwerij Kerkom, Sint Truiden
The second was also from the Kerkom Brewery, and I selected this one because of the added ingredient listed on the menu – Gruut. Adelardus is Kerkom’s Abbey-style Dubbel, and was named after one of the Abbots from Sint Truiden’s monastery – indeed the label features a portly monk spilling a frothing chalice of beer, so it may be the man himself. Gruut was what the old-time Belgian brewers flavoured their beers with before the use of hops became prevalent, and consisted of a mixture of about a dozen herbs and spices. As you can imagine, the ratios differed from producer to producer, but the Gruut traders became very rich importing and trading these specialist ingredients. Adelardus is tremendous – very balanced, and leads to a slight spicy, peppery bitterness that cuts through the sweet alcohol flavours really well. The Gruut (also known as Sweet Gale) makes this one really stand out.
t’Smisje+ Dubbel IPA (10.0%)
Brouwerij de Regenboog, Oudenaarde
In true BeerCast fashion I decided to end on a strong note, with a 10% Belgian double IPA. I’d only had three beers in Cambrinus, but it was 12:30am at this point and I’d already had a fair few that day (more to come on that note), so decided to go out with a bang. One of the more bizarre beer names I’ve come across, initially I thought it was simply Smisje IPA (as that’s what it seems to say on the bottle) – but the full title is t’Smisje+ Dubbel IPA (I don’t know if the plus sign is silent or not), and the label has a cartoon dog cramming hops into a bottle using a funnel. This and the abv should have given me some clue – and indeed so it proved. Paying homage to American Double IPA’s, this tasted like something BrewDog would come up with – massive, biting hops followed the violently hoppy, almost blue cheese aromas. This thing is a t’hop monster+, it’s actually spicier than the beer with Gruut added, so many hops having been pounded into the bottle (there are four different kinds added). Near the end I experimented and added the sediment to the glass, whereupon it went dark brown and became totally undrinkable. It’s a shame – at 10% it would be alright, just without the trampling hops (I have no idea what the IBU’s would be). It just doesn’t seem crafted to me, there’s no subtlety or balance about it, unlike other double IPA’s I’ve sampled. Although, it’s one hell of a way to end a night’s drinking, that’s for sure.