We decided to visit Westvleteren, Belgium because we found a brewery at the St. Sixtus Abbey where the Trappist monks brew ales that are known to be among the absolute best in the world! The abbey only brews enough to make money for the daily operations of the monastery, so they have been perfecting their brewing process over time in small batches.
The only way to try this beer is to visit the abbey and buy it directly from the monks, so we decided we needed to! First, you have to call to find out when you are allowed to call for a reservation time. When you call to set a time to get your beer, they tell you when they are available. We set up a time to pick up the beer and went on the 6-hour journey to Westvleteren.
When you get to the abbey, you pull your car around a driveway and wait your turn to load a crate into your car (they are sold in crates of 24 bottles). We were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could buy a maximum of three crates if we wanted to! We were only planning on buying one and finally decided to buy two crates because we drove all the way to Belgium for it. :)
Signpost on our way to the abbey
We saw a line of cars waiting for their beer, so we decided to get out and stretch a bit
Here's Joe at the entrance of the whole monastic campus
Waiting in line with his beer in sight...and looking more than a little psychotic.
Sweet success: 48 bottles of the "8" which is named after its percentage of alcohol.
Brewing Process in Flemish
A random play area outside the brewery. Joe poses with his Blondes
Our beer with a field of hops in the background
The abbey also has a modern cafe with relics from the abbey and brewery. Beer is seen as a very cosmopolitan drink in Belgium and it has the same prestige as a glass of wine in most other countries. I was surprised by the sight of proper older ladies drinking glasses of beer in the middle of the day! We drank the "12" while in the cafe because it wasn't available for sale by the crate. The 12 has an alcohol percentage of 12 and we could feel it. It was a great beer. We also had bread, cheese, pickles, and onions from the abbey.
This was an amazing adventure and we're hoping to go back sometime to not only return the bottles, but to have them refilled. I highly recommend trying all of the beers at Westvleteren, especially the 8 and 12.