Put This On Your Bucket List: Follow A Trail of Beer in Belgium
on 19/01/11 at 5:44 pmBeer
ON a fog-dense spring afternoon in the Belgian countryside beer connoisseurs had flocked to Westvleteren, a far-flung town in the southwest corner of West Flanders, to sample what many of them consider to be the best beer in the world.
The nectar in question was Westvleteren 12, a rich, brown-hued brew that has double the alcohol of most beers and a reputation to match, and that can be bought only at the In De Vrede cafe and across the street at the St. Sixtus Abbey. Cyclists in Spandex clattered about in cleats as Belgian families quietly nibbled on cheese plates and pâté. The only party missing was the monks who brewed the hallowed beer.
Nestled in this province’s verdant farmlands, the St. Sixtus Abbey houses one of six official Trappist breweries in Belgium. The monks have perfected their craft over more than 160 years, and despite closing the brewery to visitors, shunning advertising, retail outlets and even labels, their beer has taken top honors from enthusiast sites like RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com. (The only sure way to bring home the brew — save the black market — is by calling the Abbey’s “beerphone” to reserve a case for pick-up. And even then the monks will supply only one case a person, a month; no resales allowed.)
For the bona fide beer geek, the lure of this brewery and its beer might be motivation enough for a long-distance journey to Belgium. But St. Sixtus and the other Trappist temples are only part of the draw. Joining these cloistered few outposts scattered about the country in recent years are a crop of cutting-edge breweries and welcoming beer bars supplementing the old guard. There’s never been a better time for the thirsty traveler to turn a short trip to Belgium into the best beer-centric study-abroad program one could hope for, rivaling an oenophile’s romp through Bordeaux.