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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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