“What beer would you most like to try and why?” When this question was posed to me for the assignment of writing this blog I thought it would be a relatively straightforward and easy question to answer. As I thought about the question more however, the task proved more challenging than I originally presumed. Without restraints of any type how do you pick just one beer to try? Do you choose based on the beer itself? The place it comes from? Or the company you might consume it with? After some debate, I have settled on an answer that incorporates all three of these options.
Situated in the famous farm lands of West Flanders Belgium, an hour drive southwest of Bruges and forty minutes southeast of Dunkirk France is the Trappist Abbey of Saint-Sixtus of Westvleteren. This St. Benedictine monastery founded in 1831 is home to what is considered one of the best, if not the best beer in the world; Westvleteren XII.
Westvleteren XII is made from the same five ingredients as the abbey’s other two famous beers Westvleteren VIII and Blond Trappist. Coming in at a stiff 10.2% ABV the XII is a Belgian Quad considered one of the most drinkable dark beers made today. Said to have raisin, nutmeg, fig and other rich flavors this beer tops my wishlist of beverages to have hopefully along with a traditional Belgian dinner such as their famous Carbonade Flamande beef stew. The Westvleteren XII is unique also in that it is made at one of just eleven Trappist breweries in the world. Trappist order originated from Cistercian order of Catholicism, branching off to form its own order first in the 17th century and then again in 1892. Trappists sought to establish a simpler more self sustained lifestyle. Staying true to this ideology, the monks only produce enough beer each year to sustain themselves and their community despite overwhelming demand for their beers. The annual production is limited to just over 5,100 barrels. Purchases can only be made at or from the monastery in 24 pack wooden crates or 6 packs.
Now, for me all this is interesting and makes the Westvleteren XII a unique beer to try. However, what puts it to the top of my list of beers to try is the adventure that must be undertaken just to get to it. As a lover of travel and history the experience of going to the abbey, meeting the monks and having the chance to share one of the best beers in the world with some of the most unique people in the world is what separates the Westvleteren XII from the rest of the world’s beers.
I have had the pleasure of visiting Belgium twice and easily consider it one of my favorite countries. Belgium has wonderful scenery and a rich and fascinating history dating back to the Dark Ages. Guests are limited to the Renaissance area for visiting. The abbey and brewery themselves are closed to guests. However, guests are welcome to stay and live among the monks for up to a week at the Guest House. This is truly a special travel opportunity. Whether you need a full week of silence and simple living as a break from your everyday grind or just a few hours of solitude with one of the world’s greatest beers. The Saint-Sixtus Abbey along with Westvleteren XII offer one of the most truly unique beer drinking experiences that should definitely be at the top of any dedicated craft beer drinker’s bucket list.