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Finding The World’s Best Beer – Westvleteren Belgian Trappist Beer

By adriana - January 24, 2014 (Updated: December 4, 2014)

This entry is part 10 of 16 in the series Belgium in a Glass.
Westvleteren Trappist Belgian beer

Westvleteren Trappist Belgian beer

Belgian beer is beloved by beer aficionados around the world and there is one beer coveted above all others – Westvleteren. What is it that makes this Trappist beer so in demand around the world? Our contributor, Adriana, takes us on a quest to find Westvleteren in Flanders.

Westvleteren is a Belgian brewery, founded in 1838, inside the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren. The abbey is located in the municipality of Vleteren, close to the hops-producing town of Poperinge and the city of Ypres, in Flanders.  Trappist monks founded the Saint Sixtus monastery in 1831 and, in 1838, they began brewing Westvleteren beer.

The brewery’s three beers, Westvleteren 8, Westvleteren 12 and Westvleteren Blonde, have acquired an international reputation for taste and quality. Of the three beers, Westvleteren 12 has consistently been voted the single best tasting beer in the world.

All major beer rating sites agree that this is the best of all beers, including Beer Advocate, Rate Beer and Beer Pal. That’s more 2,300 beer experts agreeing Westvleteren is the best beer, anywhere.

The 6 Belgian Trappist Beers

The 6 Belgian Trappist Beers

There are eight Trappist beers in the world and six of them are brewed in Belgium: Westvleteren, Achel, Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle and Orval. (You can learn more about Trappist Beer in Andrew’s article).

One reason Westvleteren is so popular is that is extremely hard to find outside the abbey. The monks don’t make the beer for profit but to sustain their way of life.

The abbey will make a few crates of beer available for sale one or two times a month. Whether it’s the Blonde, the 8 or the 12, is up to the monks and what they have available. Sometimes you have to wait months until they sell some.

The process of getting your hands on a crate of Westvleteren is not an easy one. You can only order Westvleteren, by calling the ‘beer hotline’. You only have two hours to call, on designated dates.

Just so you understand how hard it is to get through, I once called sixteen hundred times, in the two hours provided, and did not get through. It took me three different dates and over two thousand calls to get through and place my beer order.

If you actually manage to get through, you must provide your name, phone number and car registration number. When you pick up your beer, you must drive there in the car with the registration number you provided on the phone.

In de Vrede Restaurant and Shop

In de Vrede Restaurant and Shop

Another way to buy Westvleteren is by going to the restaurant In De Vrede, just outside the abbey and purchase one sample pack, of six beers, of the Westvleteren 12 (or two if you are lucky). The Blonde is usually pretty available since it’s not as sought after as the 12.

The Westvleteren experience is not just about the beer. I strongly recommend having lunch at In De Vrede. During the winter months, a must is their homemade soup. All year long you can taste wonderful sandwiches, and of course the beer.

Westvleteren beer soup and sandwich at In de Vrede

Westvleteren beer soup and sandwich at In de Vrede

Why am I recommending soup and a sandwich here? Because the two are made with the same famous and, very hard to come by, Westvleteren beer.

This season’s beer soup is a delicious cream of carrots.  While the list of choices for sandwiches is not very extensive, it will leave a good impression. My favorite is the toasted sandwich, “In De Vrede,” made with fresh tomatoes, local ham and Westvleteren cheese, served with a salad of fresh and pickled veggies, covered by a light and creamy dressing.

Beer ice-cream? Definitely worth a taste.

Beer ice-cream? Definitely worth a taste.

For desert, I encourage you to try the “In De Vrede” ice cream, made with Westvleteren 12. It might sound bizarre but it’s delicious; similar to vanilla in taste with soft malty notes.

Apart from the beer, you can buy the soft and creamy Westvleteren cheese and even Westvleteren pâté, one of the best peasant style pâtés I’ve ever tasted, made with Westvleteren 8.

Treats to take home at the In de Vrede shop

Treats to take home at the In de Vrede shop – glasses, cheese, pâté and, of course, Westvleteren beer.

In addition, anybody wishing to spend a few days of silence and contemplation at the abbey is welcome to stay at their guesthouse. However, they do not wish to offer just overnight accommodation, but rather encourage guests to take part in the daily routine of their community and to acquire a taste of the spirit that inspires them.

Whether you simply make a day-trip, or stay at Westvleteren and contemplate the meaning of life (or beer), Westvleteren is definitely a Belgian beer worth the effort to acquire.

Find out more about Belgium’s favourite beverage on our Guide to Belgian Beer and Breweries in Belgium page. For more great restaurants in Belgium and beyond, check out our Restaurant Review page.

Read more from Cheeseweb.eu

Adriana
I live in Germany with my husband and two children. I have a big passion for travel and photography. I am most happy when I travel, when I discover new cultures, see new places and try new foods. We have travelled to twenty-seven countries and almost two hundred cities. See some of the photos taken during our adventures at Life in A Suitcase and follow on Google+.
Adriana
@onfoodandwine @rotravel @RomaniaTourism @finding_romania We only stayed a week but I would stay a lifetime. - 2 days ago

33 comments

  1. Comment by Chris Hanney

    Chris Hanney January 24, 2014 at 09:19

    I tried earlier this week to order some in tandem with some friends in Germany and Netherlands – and deduced that it seems easier to order from a non-Belgian phone number.

    Perhaps there is some sort of prioritisation on the hotline-side of the call that places non “+32” numbers higher in the queue..

    Netherlands were answered within 10 attempts, Germany within 40 – and I called easily 1500 times and no dice.

    Perhaps NL and DE were just lucky – but I’ve tried before with my friend in NL and he gets through with minimal of fuss…

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison January 24, 2014 at 10:34

      That’s really interesting Chris. Maybe we need to test the theory with our North American phone numbers… 🙂

    • Comment by Adriana

      Adriana January 24, 2014 at 18:43

      It’s all about luck. I ordered beer last Monday and got through on the first try. I was so shocked, I stuttered the whole time :).

    • Comment by fonzie

      fonzie January 29, 2014 at 19:31

      I always call with a belgian number and each year I have the marvelous Westvleteren 12 degrees.Nowadays I have 4 crates in stock Cheers

  2. Comment by Kristof - Culinary Travel Magazine

    Kristof - Culinary Travel Magazine January 24, 2014 at 10:41

    Thanks for the tip! Didn’t know they were cooking with Westvleteren in that place 🙂 Might check it out in the future.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison January 24, 2014 at 13:10

      There isn’t a huge menu but it’s a nice lunch stop… plus you get to sample the beer 🙂

  3. Comment by Jared

    Jared January 24, 2014 at 12:34

    My experience earlier this week makes me think it’s just random luck. Thursday morning I tried about 100 times (with a Belgian number) with no success before I had to stop and to do some work. I tried again about an hour later and on the first try I got through. I was shocked. I’d be surprised if there’s any prioritization given to non-Belgian numbers though, I just think it’s pure random luck if you get through or not.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison January 24, 2014 at 13:09

      We’ve heard it’s very hit and miss too. Good thing your persistence paid off!

  4. Comment by Marc Poelmans

    Marc Poelmans January 24, 2014 at 13:44

    When visiting the area in november I lucked out, they were selling the 12 at the restaurant ! It was like a spreading fire: everyone who entered noticed the huge stack of boxes, immediately reached for their phones and started calling around (including me) for orders. The tip here is: visit on a week day. In the weekend, even if they have a new batch, it’s gone after a few minutes.

    Of course this story isn’t complete without mentioning Sint-Bernardus beer. Until a few decades ago, the Westvleteren beer was brewed in their brewery, located very close to the abbey. It was only until they went for the Trappist label that it moved inside the abbey walls. Until this day, Sint-Bernardus still uses the same recipe (using one different hop, I believe). They taste virtually the same, but … Sint-Bernardus is available at Carrefour… With one of the cases of Westvleteren I purchased, I intend to organize a blind tasting 🙂

    • Comment by Jan O.

      Jan O. January 24, 2014 at 13:59

      I have read somewhere they are using a yeast from different producer in the Sint-Bernardus beer. However, they taste differently I might say..

  5. Comment by Jan O.

    Jan O. January 24, 2014 at 13:56

    I would have an addition to the statement there are only eight trappist breweries in the world – recently there was opened a 9th one, hold on – in The States!
    http://beerstreetjournal.com/spencer-trappist-ale/

    • Comment by Adriana

      Adriana January 24, 2014 at 18:37

      Correct :), the people of Massachusetts must be very happy. Since writing this post another opened in Netherlands too. And it looks like Orval might be loosing it’s Trappist title. 🙁

  6. Comment by Huw W

    Huw W January 24, 2014 at 17:11

    I heard they actually now have 10 trappist beers

    A Trappist beer is not the same as an Abbey beer

    Of all the beers in the world, only eleven may carry the name “Trappist”: the beers of Achel, Chimay, La Trappe, Orval, Mont des Cats, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle, Mont des Cats Stift Engelszell,Zundert (NL) and Spencer (USA).

    The “Authentic Trappist Product” label

    Ten trappist beers carry the ATP-label : the beers of Achel, Chimay, La Trappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle, and the beers of Stift Engelszell (Gregorius and Benno), Zundert (NL) and Spencer (USA).

    • Comment by Adriana

      Adriana January 25, 2014 at 10:22

      You are correct. When I wrote the post, a couple of weeks ago I was not aware of it. They seem to appear from nowhere lately :). I never knew there were Trappist monks in the US 🙂

  7. Comment by Kevin

    Kevin January 24, 2014 at 18:29

    Actually, 10 official trappist breweries.6 in Belgium, 2 in Holland, 1 in Austria, 1 in the USA.

    • Comment by Adriana

      Adriana January 25, 2014 at 10:09

      Correct. When I wrote the post, a couple of weeks ago I was not aware of it.

  8. Comment by Gordon

    Gordon January 24, 2014 at 18:43

    Adriana:

    There are actually 10 Trappist breweries in the world:

    BELGIUM- Bières de Chimay
    BELGIUM- Brasserie d’Orval
    BELGIUM- Brasserie de Rochefort
    BELGIUM- Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle
    BELGIUM- Brouwerij Westvleteren/St Sixtus
    BELGIUM- Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis/Achel
    THE NETHERLANDS- Brouwerij de Koningshoeven/La Trappe
    THE NETHERLANDS- Trappistenbrouwerij de Kievit / Zundert
    GERMANY- Stift Engelszell
    UNITED STATES- Spencer Brewery / St. Joseph’s Abbey

    You can read more at my blog:
    http://belgianbeerjournal.wordpress.com/beer-styles/trappist/

    Nice article, nonetheless! Good job.

    • Comment by Adriana

      Adriana January 25, 2014 at 10:11

      Correct. When I wrote the post a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t aware of it.Stift Engelszell is actually in Austria not Germany.

  9. Comment by Kevin

    Kevin January 24, 2014 at 19:37

    Orval isn’t about to lose its title…..

    • Comment by Adriana

      Adriana January 25, 2014 at 10:20

      I really hope they will not. I read a few posts online saying that they are having a shortage of monks and might not have enough soon to carry on the beer making.

      • Comment by Kevin

        Kevin January 26, 2014 at 12:12

        To have the seal they need one monk ‘supervising’ the brewing process, a term that can be taken losely I heard. All the brewing can be done by laymen so the seal is not immediately in danger. And I’m sure they’ll find a way to keep the seal if even that becomes a problem…..

        • Comment by Adriana

          Adriana January 27, 2014 at 18:55

          Very happy to hear that. I always thought it has to be brewed by monks only.

  10. Comment by Víctor M. Martinez Valero

    Víctor M. Martinez Valero January 26, 2014 at 03:36

    If I didn’t want to try Westvleteren enough already now you made things worse Adriana! 🙂 I’ve been trying a different Belgian beer every day since I got here about three months ago and I still didn’t manage to find a place that sells Westvleteren, which is quite annoying since having no car here I think it’s going to be difficult to pay a visit to the abbey.

    It’s nevertheless in my to do list, with the sandwiches, soups, cheeses, desserts and all those marvelous beers they’ve got!

    • Comment by Adriana

      Adriana January 26, 2014 at 18:17

      Oh no :). Try to make it at the Abbey and get it. No store sells it and you really don’t want to try to get it on the black market as you will pay a lot of money for it.

    • Comment by Gunnar Rogneflaaten

      Gunnar Rogneflaaten January 28, 2014 at 12:46

      I saw the three Westvleteren biers at the “de Bier Tempel” shop downtown Brussels yesterday.

  11. Comment by Marc Poelmans

    Marc Poelmans January 27, 2014 at 15:58

    Was at the Abbey this Sunday! Lady Fortune was on my side again, since they were selling the 12 in the gift shop… From all my visits there, it was the first time it was available on a weekend.

    I also tried the paté and the glorious ice cream shown in the article above, and I absolutely loved it!

    • Comment by Adriana

      Adriana January 27, 2014 at 18:53

      So happy you enjoyed it 🙂

  12. Comment by Someone

    Someone February 15, 2014 at 08:28

    Well , with the amount of comments this article got , this is probably going to go unnoticed.
    But if you’re in the mood for doing more beer related articles , you should consider reviewing something that’s been a staple to Belgian homes for hundreds of years.
    Table beer or “small beer”. In a time when water was dirty , watered down wine expensive this was what was served on the dinner table every day , drunk by adults and children alike. Alcohol content is usually around 1%. Which is very low compared to regular beers.
    It is sold in large bottles , often with a screw on cap. Piedbouf is probably the most common brand but there are a whole lot more. These days it is still available at most large outlets and most breweries have their own brand of Tafelbier, it’s not as popular as it used to be though, now soft drinks have taken over the market. Even the monks at the westvleteren monastery (it’s probably what they drink when eating) make their own. And I’m sure it’s not even that hard to get a few bottles.

    A very typical Belgian product, probably not exported to anywhere, very much worth taking a closer look at imo.

    Friendly Regards and thank you for a nice article.
    Someone

    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tafelbier
    (the dutch article has a list of brand names and breweries)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_beer

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison February 18, 2014 at 13:21

      Sounds like a great suggestion and I’ve put Andrew on the case… He’ll ‘investigate’ for a future article. Thanks for the suggestion!

  13. Comment by Katie

    Katie March 12, 2014 at 09:53

    Hi, I am trying for the first time to get this coveted beer. When I call (in the right window according to the website), I get a “this number is not in use” message. Is this the same message you received until you got through. I don’t want to keep dialing 1000+ times with the wrong number =). Thanks!

  14. Comment by John

    John June 17, 2014 at 15:55

    Hi people, if the abbey does not work for you, feel free to contact me. I have a small stock of the 12 and I can get it to you in Brussels or Gent. You sure will be cheaper off than in the beer shops! Cheers, john.

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