Beer pipe­line due in Bel­gium

To pro­tect his­toric streets of Bruges

SundayXtra - - WORLD - By Raf Casert

BRUGES, Bel­gium — The idea may have seemed mad, but af­ter all, the beer is called the Mad­man of Bruges — or Brugse Zot in Dutch.

With the help of crowd­fund­ing ef­forts among some 400 Mad­man fans, the dream of build­ing a beer pipe­line through the Bel­gian city of Bruges is be­com­ing real.

“You have to be a bit crazy — like the beer — to do such a project. I just had the money for that, and I liked it. So I went crazy and gave the money to the brew­ery,” said restau­rant owner Philippe Le Loup, who poured US$11,000 into the pipe­line.

Brewer Xavier Vanneste got the idea four years ago to pump beer from his Bruges brew­ery to a bot­tling plant out­side of town in a pipe­line in­stead of hav­ing hun­dreds of trucks blight­ing the cob­ble­stoned streets of the UNESCO-pro­tected me­dieval city.

What at first seemed like an out­ra­geous dream be­gan to seem pos­si­ble when Vanneste started talk­ing to lo­cal beer en­thu­si­asts.

Jokes were com­ing in fast, with peo­ple say­ing, “We are will­ing to in­vest as long as we can have a tap­ping point on the pipe­line,” Vanneste said. “That gave us the idea to crowd­fund the project.”

Thanks to Le Loup and oth­ers, he is now star­ing at the one end of the pipe­line, which be­gin­ning in the fall will start pump­ing some 4,000 litres of beer an hour to­ward the bot­tling plant, three kilo­me­tres away in an in­dus­trial zone.

“That is a lot of beer, more than you can drink in a life­time,” said the owner of De Halve Maan brew­ery, which in ad­di­tion to Brugse Zot is also fa­mous for its Straffe Hen­drik beer brand.

Send­ing the pipe­line along streets where cus­tomers could siphon off their favourite suds was too utopian even for Vanneste, but he came up with the next best thing: IOUs with a life­long drink­ing guar­an­tee.

“We have sev­eral for­mu­las: bronze, sil­ver and gold,” he said. “If you put in ( US$ 8,350), you will re­ceive for the rest of your days, ev­ery day one bot­tle of Brugse Zot.”

For many, that of­fer was hard to refuse. About 10 per cent of the to­tal US$4.5-mil­lion in­vest­ment for the pipe­line has been fi­nanced through crowd­fund­ing. With it came a pop­u­lar surge of sup­port that has stood Vanneste in good stead.

With a warren of mu­nic­i­pal, re­gional and fed­eral laws gov­ern­ing the pic­turesque city, build­ing ap­provals are of­ten la­bo­ri­ous to get. Not, how­ever, for a beer pipe­line as au­thor­i­ties re­al­ized the whole com­mu­nity was back­ing it.

The city also stood to gain. In be­tween the city’s be­guinage houses and Our Lady’s Cathe­dral, the De Halve Maan brew­ery has given the some­times overly touristy city a sense of real life. Vanneste could have done what so many oth­ers have — moved out of the city with its canals, gabled Gothic houses, horse- drawn car­riages and restau­rants fea­tur­ing menus in six lan­guages.

Now, he looks for­ward to the best of both worlds — a his­toric brew­ery in a gor­geous lo­ca­tion and an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way of trans­port­ing his brews out to the bot­tling plant, which will al­low him to con­tinue to grow with­out dam­ag­ing the city.

But it’s not only Vanneste’s fam­ily busi­ness that is grow­ing. The gen­er­ous con­trib­u­tor to the project, Le Loup, sighed as he glanced at his own paunch.

In bro­ken English, he said, “You can see that in my belly, I am a bit more beer fan.”

VIR­GINIA MAYO / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Brewer Xavier Vanneste’s pipe­line was fi­nanced en­tirely by crowd­fund­ing.

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