How Beer is made – Tour of De Halve Maan Brewery
Welcome to the De Halve Maan (the half moon) Brewery
Not all chemicals are bad.
Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen,
for example, there would be no way to make water,
a vital ingredient in beer.
You need steam to make beer
I’d like to say that I’ve always loved beer, but lets be honest here, it took me years to get used to the taste after I first tired it. But I persisted and after countless bottles I finally started enjoying.
And then I moved to England and found out that there are other beers besides lagers, beers that had taste and charisma. But still, I have known shamefully little of how beer is actually made.
So it was time to fix that and go visit a brewery to see how it’s actually done; and what better brewery to choose than the De Halve Maan (the half moon) brewery in Bruges with over hundred years of experience from brewing beer.
Wooden barrels for storing beer
De Halve Maan brewery was officially set up in Bruges in 1865 by one Henri Maes, but there are records dating back to 1564 of a brewery called “Die Maene” (the moon).
Henri Maes was later known as Henri I, and one of his sons as Henri II, so I suppose you either need a kingdom or a brewery to have a bit of lineage.
The brewery is located quite centrally in Bruges and is definitely worth visiting if you are in the neighbourhood. They have tours starting once an hour, which suited us as we wanted to get away from the pouring rain.
The tour started with the tanks where they create the “mash” that consists mainly of malted grains and hot water. This is basically the starting point of the brewing process for any beer. Heat helps convert the starch in the grain into sugars. From the mash a liquid called “wort” is extracted, which contains the converted sugars.
The wort is flowed into a huge tank called the “copper” which I would imagine is called that because they are usually made of copper. The wort is boiled together with hops to add flavour into the beer.
Old machinery for mixing mash
There were plenty of copper pipes
You can’t have a brewery without lots of equipment made of copper
The resulting hopped wort is cooled before adding the next key ingredient – yeast. During fermentation the yeast turns the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. And once the fermenting is finished the beer is left to be conditioned a while before it’s either bottled or stored in barrels for transporting.
So quite simple really, if you ignore all the dozen minor details which I skipped. And it really is a more of an art than science, although you do have to get your science right first or your beer will be horrible.
The view from the roof was cloudy and full of very hoppy steam
Hops, which are used for flavoring beer
Old bottling equipment
Beer fountain used for cooling beer
It was fascinating to see all the old equipment they used for brewing beer and then seeing glimpses of the modern day equipment shine thru here and there. Sure brewing beer on this scale isn’t quite as hands-on as it used to be, but things evolve. And De Halve Moon brewery is still quite small as breweries go.
Modern glass doors separating us from some of the modern technology
The modern machinery is shiny and silvery
Modern brewing machinery
The Belgians do take their beer seriously (for a reason) and our tour guide had the opinion that:
Drinking beer out of a can is a sin
Which makes sense once you learn that all Belgian beers have their own glass. Today most glasses tend to be shaped more like wine glasses. This is not just by chance or because the design is cool, it’s for a good reason. Beer, like wine, has a lot of aromas and the wine glass shape allows the drinker to better appreciate those aromas.
So Belgian beer is slightly different to your normal lagers for which the glass doesn’t really matter. For Belgian beers the glass really matters and go to any Belgian pub and they will have different glasses for all their beers.
Tanks for holding beer
Cleaning the tanks was dangerous because of alcohol fumes. You were only allowed to stay inside for 10 minutes and you had to sing. If the singing stopped, the person outside knew to come in and rescue you
So after our tour it was finally time to test the brewery’s output, the famous Bruges Zoet which is a very nice pale blond ale.
After the tour we sampled their excellent Brugse Zot… After taking some photos of it of course
But when enjoying beer, do keep in mind our tour guides wise words:
Beer is a drug,
So it’s very healthy for you
Old bottles in crates
Have you ever visited a brewery?