I realised very quickly just how good Belgium is for beer drinkers – every restaurant or bar has a local selection that really cry out to be sampled. Most of them have a decent selection on draught, many are even house specials or are renowned for one particular type or style of beer. One place such as this is Staminee de Gare in Bruges, tucked away down a narrow passageway between the two focal points of the city – the Markt and Burg squares. In researching the drinking options beforehand, the house tripel here – Tripel De Garre had been mentioned numerous times. I’ll say right now that every single one of these people who mentioned it were absolutely right – it was the nicest beer I tried the whole time I was in Belgium.
Brewed by the Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Ertevelde the menu leaves you under no illusions as to the strength of the Tripel – at 11.5% it warns that they will only serve a maximum of three per customer (although I have since read that if you sweet-talk the barman he’ll let this slide, as long as he ‘keeps an eye on you’). As I was sampling at midday on an empty stomach I left it at the one, but the large chunky glass arrives on a doily-draped tray with a small dish of cubed cheese (kaas, in the Flemish). This turned out to be so good, we ordered a cheese platter to accompany – and compliment – the beer (my girlfriend having ordered a Huyghe La Guillotine on my recommendation, before I realised it was 9%). Anyway, it made for a pleasant lunch.
Tripel de Garre is poured from a wooden barrel on the bar, and so comes with a colossal pillowy head, at least a couple of inches. The aromas are amazing – alcohol esters, rich citrus, wheat beer notes, some mild spices from the hops. The mouthfeel is as good as I’ve ever got from a beer, strong warming alcohol mixed with the sharper hops and mellow sweetness. This mellowness continues into the aftertaste, where the strong witbier flavours come to the fore along with some flowers, and then finally the punch of the 11.5% alcohol, which remarkably is never overpowering. It was astonishing, I was genuinely amazed. Truly one of the nicest beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling – and quite simply a must if you find yourself in Bruges.