Westvleteren 12, the title of the so-called “best beer in the world”, inspires awe among beer aficionados. The beer is a product of the Abbey of St. Sixtus in the town of Westvleteren, Belgium. St. Sixtus is one of few Trappist abbeys in the world and one of just six located in Belgium.
Trappist monks devote their lives to prayer and to the work of their hands while living life in isolation and devotion to God. Thankfully for the rest of us, a select few monasteries produce beer. It’s an interesting contrast: a drink with connotations of vice is the very lifeblood of these abbeys. Without the profits from the sale of beer, the monks of St. Sixtus would not have been able to repair their roof in 2013. Beyond supporting the monastery, the brewery operation is not intended to make a profit. Because of this, the abbey produces a very limited quantity and forbids resale of the beer. St. Sixtus produces three varieties including the Westvleteren Blond, 8 and 12. In my opinion (and that of many beer nuts) the Westvleteren 12 is the only one worth flying 4,000 miles to try.
My personal love affair with Westvleteren 12 began in 2011. I was fortunate enough to spend six months living in Brussels. I had heard off-hand of this mysterious abbey located in the West Flanders countryside about an hour and a half from the Belgian capital. By the time my six months was up I had made three visits, dialed the “beer line” hundreds of times, and even tasted the beer at a Brussels establishment that has chosen to ignore the abbey’s strict no-resale rule.
The pictures in this post are from my most recent visit in June of this year. Westvleteren 12 induces a kind of high unlike anything I’ve ever drank before. Maybe it’s the peacefulness of the abbey and the surrounding farm land. Maybe it’s the French and Flemish chatter with the rare English or German conversation mixed in. Maybe it’s the whopping 10.2% alcohol content. Maybe because it’s just so darn difficult to get the beer! For those dedicated enough to try, here’s a brief guide:
Method 1 – Reserve a crate via the “beer line”
Step 1: Follow the instructions here and call to reserve a crate. Good luck getting through! Despite a valiant effort, I was never successful at Method 1. Tip from a friend: enlist a group and use every phone at your disposal.
Step 2: Be in Belgium
Step 3: Pick up crate during the designated time and enjoy!
Method 2 – Drive or Bike
Step 1: Be in Belgium
Step 3 (driving): Open Google Maps, search for In de Vrede, and enjoy the beautiful Flemish countryside. Drink all the beer you can while there! (responsibly)
Step 3 (biking): Traveling from Brussels, take the train and connect once in Gent, again in Kortrijk, and end up in Poperinge. Walk to the center of town, find a friendly hotelier and ask to rent a bike. I rented from the Hotel Belfort after a brief misunderstanding (they thought I was trying to break into the hotel). Drink all the beer you can while there! (responsibly and retaining your ability to ride a bike)
Step 4: Be sure to pick up a 6-pack of Westvleteren 12 to take home. If you bike, make sure you have room to carry it!