Long-awaited beer pipeline opens in Bruges

Summary

An underground pipeline linking De Halve Maan brewery to the bottler three kilometres away has begun operation

Goodbye tanker trucks

The long-awaited “beer pipeline” opened in Bruges last Friday, carrying the beers Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik under the Unesco-protected streets to the nearby bottling plant. The pipeline takes the beer from the centuries-old De Halve Maan, one of only two remaining breweries in the centre of the city, direct to the bottler three kilometres away, without the need for truck transport.

When five years ago, sixth-generation brewmaster Xavier Vanneste started wondering aloud about pumping his brew underground, people thought he’d been oversampling his own wares. “Lots of people told us it’s a joke, it’s just a dream,” Vanneste said.

The 36-year-old had trouble finding engineers who would take him seriously enough to draft a plan for an underground beer pipeline. But he was undeterred. He knew that with the rapidly growing demand for his Brugse Zot, it was just a matter of time before the city authorities put a limit on the number of tankers that could squeeze down the narrow cobblestone streets to collect the beer. 

Bruges mayor Renaat Landuyt admits he was among those who doubted Vanneste’s concept was even possible.  “I thought he was really the ‘Brugse Zot’,” Landuyt laughed, “asking to build a pipeline underground, under historical buildings, under an historical city.” But Landuyt says it only took one meeting with Vanneste to be convinced it could work.

But is the beer OK?

Then there was the family, whose brewing tradition was being put at risk in that plastic pipe. Veronique Maes, Vanneste’s mother, from whom he inherited the brewery, worried about the quality of the beer. “We did a lot of tests and tastings,” she said. “It had to be perfect.” 

Maes is now completely confident there is no difference between what goes into the pipe at picturesque Walplein and what comes out some three kilometers away.

We invite people to come forward with further creative ideas to improve Bruges

- Mayor Renaat Landuyt

Pete Bates of Riviera Travel has been bringing British tourists to Bruges for two decades, and De Halve Maan is always a stop on his walking tour. As trucks had to park directly in front of the brewery for as long as it took for for the beer to be pumped in, he would often encounter one. “You’d be trying to tell them about how the brewery’s been here since the 1500s, about the architecture, and then there’s a big truck standing here.”

With such limited space for operations, there were plenty of technical difficulties, explained Alain De Pre of Denys Research Consultants, which designed the pipeline. But what there wasn’t, he said, was the usual animosity from residents disturbed by the project. “They took selfies with it,” he laughed.

Vanneste launched a crowdfunding effort so residents could sponsor a piece of the pipe, raising €340,000 of the €4 million price tag. Top investors can stop by De Halve Maan to receive a beer every day for life.

Mayor Landuyt says he’s hoping other industries will pick up the idea to help rid his city of more multi-tonne trucks. “It’s an invitation to the world to get creative,” he said. “We invite people to come forward with further creative ideas to improve Bruges.”

photo: Bruges mayor Renaat Landuyt (left) and De Halve Maan owner Xavier Vanneste say goodbye to the last tanker truck last week
(c)Teri Schultz