Beer to flow through Bruges as Belgian pipe dream comes true
The idea may have seemed like a pipe dream, but with the help of crowdfunding efforts the plan to build a beer pipeline through the Belgian city of Bruges is becoming a reality.
"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 local restaurant owner Philippe Le Loup, who poured some £7,500 into the pipeline.
Brewer Xavier Vanneste got the idea four years ago to pump the beer from his Bruges brewery to a bottling plant outside town in a pipeline instead of having hundreds of transportation trucks blighting the cobblestoned streets of the medieval city.
What at first seemed like an outrageous dream began to seem possible when Vanneste started talking to local beer enthusiasts, he said.
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 to make this possible."
Thanks to Le Loup and others, he is now staring at the opening end of the pipeline, which from this autumn will start pumping some 4,000 litres (1,060 gallons) of beer an hour toward the bottling plant, around two miles away in a nondescript 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 the Brugse Zot - Madman of Bruges - beer, is also famous for its Straffe Hendrik beer brand.
Sending the pipeline along all streets where customers could siphon off their favourite beer without having to leave home 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, for example 7,500 euros (£5,870) you will receive for the rest of your days, every day one bottle of Brugse Zot."
The offer was hard to refuse and about 10% of the total 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, building approvals were often difficult to come by for something as unique as a beer pipeline but authorities soon realised a whole community was backing it.
Not only did they provide financial funding for the project, they also provided a political base for it because so many people were supporting it, Vanneste said.
The city also stood to gain. In between the picturesque houses, De Halve Maan brewery has given the city a sense of real life. Vanneste could have done what so many others have done - move out, lock, stock and barrel from the city with its canals, gabled Gothic houses, horse-drawn carriages and restaurants with six-language menus.
Now, he hopes to have the best of both worlds - a historic brewery in a location where it should be and an environmentally friendly way of transporting his brews out to the bottling plant which will allow him to continue to grow.