RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Brewers in Belgium are famously devoted to tradition, with beer recipes meticulously maintained over centuries. And many of that country's oldest breweries are located in the heart of medieval towns, which presents a problem - delivery trucks can barely squeeze through narrow laneways to get the product to the market. Teri Schultz reports on one of these breweries, which has come up with an innovative solution.
TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Xavier Vanneste runs one of the oldest working breweries in Belgium, founded more than five centuries ago in the medieval city of Bruges. The De Halve Maan brewery has been in his family for six generations. Its prime downtown location, wedged between lace shops and chocolatiers, is part of both its popularity and its problems.
XAVIER VANNESTE: It's really part of our life story as well to keep it here, so we want to keep it here.
SCHULTZ: He also wanted to keep up his company's annual double-digit growth. So Vanneste needed to find a way to preserve Bruges' quaint cobblestone streets from the three-ton tankers taking his beer to the offsite bottling plant before the city told him he had to move out.
VANNESTE: We were up to a point that we had four to five trucks every day coming. And you see how they are. The trucks, they are big for the narrow streets. For the livability of Bruges, groups it was really a threat.
SCHULTZ: It wasn't pretty, confirms tour guide Peter Bates.
PETE BATES: It was a nightmare. You're trying to tell them about the fact that they've been brewing here since the 1550s, and then there's a truck stopped there, you know, running (imitating truck engine), you know?
SCHULTZ: Vanneste saw telecom workers laying cable one day and decided to try it with beer. People were shocked. How could a Bruges brewmaster even think about pouring his liquid legacy down a plastic tube?
VANNESTE: Some of the people we talked to said, oh, you're just crazy. It's not a serious project.
SCHULTZ: Bruges Mayor Renaat Landuyt acknowledges that, five years ago, he'd been one of those skeptics.
RENAAT LANDUYT: Asking to build a pipeline underground, under historical buildings, under historical streets, you can't mean that.
SCHULTZ: But Vanneste spent four years researching his idea and convincing his family their reputation wouldn't go flat. He'd inherited the De Halve Maan brewery from his mother, Veronique Maes.
VERONIQUE MAES: We had to be very sure it would work.
SCHULTZ: Both brewer's yeast and consumers are temperamental. But Vanneste says, once the project engineers learned beer's preferred speed through a pipe, which turns out to be about 12 miles per hour, he insists not a bit of quality is lost in the two-mile underground journey. Vanneste says no one complained at the public hearing. Project manager Alain de Pre, who usually lays oil and gas lines, was amazed there was none of the hostility he normally encounters when disrupting residents' streets and sidewalks.
ALAIN DE PRE: They took selfies with the - with our project. It was the first time that I saw this in my whole career.
SCHULTZ: Many homeowners even offered to let the pipe run under their property, hoping in vain they could literally tap into the project. Vanneste rejected that idea, but it did inspire him to crowdfund the project, with top investors getting a free beer at the brewery every day for life.
BATES: Pipeline under the city to go to the bottle factory.
SCHULTZ: And now tour guides have something new to tell the more than 6 million visitors who come to Bruges each year, with one guide suggesting, next time, they bring a drill and a very long straw. For NPR News, I'm Teri Shultz in Brussels.
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