Today, I introduce you to my friend, whose formal name is Tripel van de Garre, aka, de Garre, the house tripel of de Garre, a quaint, intimate alley beer café in medieval Bruges. De Garre is Dutch for, The Alley. This luscious beer is brewed by Brewery Van Steenberge, located about 45 minutes east of here in the burgh of Ertvelde. It’s a good ambassador for the tripel style, which is one of my favorites, and the one that seduced me into my lust for Belgian beer. It’s blond in color, well balanced, just slightly yeast forward and ruins you for the rest. It tastes sublime from start-to-finish and leaves you wanting more. But at 11.5%, for most people, two glasses is enough.
Part of what makes de Garre so special is its presentation, poured with the proper 3” head in it’s special pregnant tulip glass, served on a doily, on a small oval tray with a side of cheese cubes skewered with toothpicks as a warning to other would-be cheese cubes who might come here. And of course, the label is always served facing the seductee and always with classical music in the background.
The beer is rarely seen outside of the confines of this pleasant café. I saw it one time van ‘t vat (on draft) at a popular bottle shop with a tasting bar in Seattle. That’s it. So, if you have some special connections, it’s possible it will surface elsewhere, but don’t count on it.
The atmosphere at the de Garre is what really makes the tripel experience, so to have it out of context would never be the same. The café, with it’s timbered, stucco and exposed brick walls, and hand-hewed massive dark beams exude history. So when you drink this beer in these hallowed halls, you are drinking history. This seems like the kind of place people might have stopped by after a beheading.
The café, established in 1984, is hard to find on your own, it’s down a narrow “alley,” what most of us would just call a narrow 4’ wide gap between medieval buildings, traditionally built as fire escapes. There is no sign at the entrance to the alley, you just have to know it is down there. It’s funny to watch people intrepidly and gingery push cautiously down the alley on their first time here. Once inside, there is the choice of the intimate main floor seating area or the mezzanine level above which provides a nice perch in which to people watch the consumers below.
Writing and drinking; kids don't try this at home.
And just this year, they have developed the attic on the third floor into more seating area, increasing their capacity by about 45 seats. This is good news, because on more than one occasion, I have been turned away due to lack of room.
Keep in mind when visiting, they close early, often by midnight, with last call falling randomly and usually, between 11 and 11:30. So to avoid disappointment, and it can be very disappointing, don’t wait too late to go.
But my favorite part of the de Garre experience is the playing of Ravel’s Bolero at closing time. As the music naturally gets louder as it goes on, newcomers wonder what’s up. Alumni of de Garre know all too well that Bolero means the evening is coming to a ritualistic close. Time to finish your beer, take a moment to soak in the rustic atmosphere, reflect upon another incredible day in Belgium, then depart. Goodnight, de Garre, until we meet again.
1 de Garre
* Can be closed toward the end of January and June and other random days.