Europe & Britain | Food

Beer lovers rejoice: Bruges has its very own beer pipeline

Recently updated on July 19th, 2023 at 05:30 pm

Underneath the medieval streets of Bruges lies the world’s first beer pipeline, pumping enough beer to fill a whopping 12,000 bottles an hour. It sounds like a beer lover’s wildest dream but this 3km beer pipeline is very real and pumping close to 4,000 litres of booze an hour beneath the step-gabled houses and winding canals of the Belgian city.

The beer problem

bruges cobbled medieval streets houses

The world’s first beer pipeline was devised by De Halve Maan (Half Moon Brewery), a 500-year-old brewery in the heart of Bruges. It was inspired by the logistical headache of transporting their beer from their historic brewery in the city centre, to their larger bottling factory around 3km outside the city.

Their Bruges brewery is too small to contain a bottling plant. But since the entire city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was impossible to expand their facilities. So their huge beer tankers had to thunder through the narrow cobbled streets of Bruges to their bottling plant. This regularly caused traffic jams and air pollution as they navigated the tiny lanes.

Until now our huge tankers had to constantly make their way through the narrow streets of Bruges,” says CEO Xavier Vanneste. “Which is no longer sustainable. This beer pipeline means that we’ll be able to remain in the city.

Bruges was once home to more than 30 beer-makers, but today only De Halve Maan remains – and they weren’t giving up on their centuries-old brewery site. Their modern innovation has since taken 500 beer trucks off the streets of Bruge each year.

The pipeline also ensured that one of Belgium‘s oldest breweries remain in operation and spreading the joy of Bruges beer. You can take a guided tour and discover the brewery’s unique history at their beer museum at De Halve Maan.

GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg

How did they do it?

Bruges belfry medieval canals

When Vanneste saw construction works laying cable networks in the city, he wondered if they could do the same with their beer and make an underground network of the good stuff.

The brewery brought this literal pipe dream to life in September 2016, after three years of planning, wrangling permits and actual construction. The beer pipeline is 3,276 metres long and 34 metres deep at its lowest point, under a parking garage at the famous Zand Square.

There are two pipelines lying side by side. They alternately contain the Bruges brewery’s popular blond and brown Brugse Zot (the official city beer) and Straffe Hendrik (an intense, malty beer). The pipes are equipped with high-density polyethylene, a sturdy food-grade plastic to ensure the quality of the beer. This satisfies food safety authorities and surprisingly even improved the taste of their famous brews.

Extensive quality tests have shown that the oxygen absorption by the beer is less because of the pipeline transportation, lending the beer a longer natural preservation,” says De Halve Maan’s Inge Vandenbogaerde.

Each delicious batch takes anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours to travel through the pipeline. That’s to keep too much air from infiltrating the beer. The pipeline even has a cleaning system to keep the pipe sparkling. The brewers use jets of cleaning solution to sterilize the pipes between batches.

RELATED CONTENT: How many tonnes of Belgian chocolate are produced every year, and other facts

tour of de halve maan brewery bruges
Image credit: De Halve Maan

Belgium’s biggest crowdfunding campaign

The pipeline cost $4.5 million to build. While the Belgian government subsidies provided a large sum, it was also partially funded by a crowdfunding campaign. Devoted ale fans pitched in more than $335,000 (300,000 euros), believed to be a record crowdfunding campaign for Belgium.

The most generous backers were rewarded for their efforts and those who donated $8,400 (7,500) euros received 18 personalised glasses. They’ll also get an 11-ounce bottle of Brugse Zot every day for the rest of their lives. A worthy investment for any beer lover!

Bruges loves its beer

waiter serving beer de halve maan brewery bruges
Image credit: De Halve Maan

Despite half a year of digging and drilling that often shut down streets, the people of Bruges backed the pipeline all the way. Locals would often stop to take selfies with the plastic tubes before they disappeared underground. Pipeline workers said the most common question they heard was: “Can I have my own personal tap?”

If any country was going to make a beer pipeline a reality, it was beer-guzzling Belgium. The country drank just over seven million litres of beer in 2018. That’s nearly 70 litres of suds per person in one year.

With beer now literally flowing through the streets of Bruges, the Belgian love of beer isn’t likely to wane any time soon. Santé to that!

Have you enjoyed a brew from the world’s first beer pipeline? Are you dreaming of a trip to Bruges? Let us know in the comments below…

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