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The famous monks’ beers

The famous monks’ beers

Myra Prinsen - 2008-09-01

The beers of Saint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren are so famous that local and foreign connoisseurs don’t hesitate to make a long journey to get hold of a few cases. Indeed they can be bought only at the abbey, and only by appointment.

 
Westvleteren Twaalf: the undisputed world champion
The monks of Saint SixtusAbbey brew three different beers: Blond (5.8%), Acht (8%)and Twaalf (10.2%). All three are very popular, but Twaalf is the best. This is, at any rate, the opinion of thousands of beer connoisseurs from 60 countries who, every year, sift through tens of thousands of different brands of beer from all over the world on the www.ratebeer.com web site. Since 2002, Westvleteren Twaalf has been consistently listed amongst the top two.
 
In view of such results, any boss would rub their hands and seriously step up production. But Saint SixtusAbbey is not a company: it is a monastery where the monks brew to make a living and no more. So production remains limited. Thus Westvleteren is not only the most popular Trappist beer in the world, it is also the most rare.
 
 
The “Beer Line”
This international success meant that the little country roads leading to the abbey were constantly congested, which led to a new rule being introduced two years ago: the beer is now sold by appointment only and only to individuals who promise not to market it, with a maximum of two cases per car. Nevertheless, the queues still often stretch out in front of the door.
 
Getting an appointment also requires patience. The beer is not actually on sale all the time and when it is, it varies between Blond, Acht and Twaalf. The quantities available are indicated on an answerphone and on the abbey’s web site. Customers can then call the “Beer Line” at the times indicated. If the stock has not yet sold out, an appointment can finally be made. The car’s number plate is noted and the same vehicle is not allowed in more than once a month.
 
Those who don’t manage to contact the monks or who are deterred by the difficulty can, however, sample a real Westvleteren at the “ In de Vrede” meeting place inside the monastery. This is the only cafe in the world where this beer is served. The brothers also sell gift packs containing four bottles and a Trappist glass. Behind the cafe, they have set up an information area about the monastery and brewery, the Claustrum.
 
 
Fond of peacefulness and privacy
In the Claustrum, it is mentioned that the Trappists settled in Westvleteren in 1831. A few years later, they bought an old brewery and since 1839, Saint SixtusAbbey has had an official brewing licence. Twenty-three monks currently live in the abbey. They brew beer in order to ensure their own livelihood. The surplus revenue is distributed to Belgian charities and missionaries abroad.
 
The monks are fundamentally attached to their tranquillity and privacy. They have, in fact, chosen a life of meditation. Their monastery is not open to the public and walls protect them from prying eyes. Through the enclosure, you can just see the old church topped by a small green tower.
 
A replica of the cave in Lourdes, France, belonging to the monastery, is nonetheless open to the public. A path skirting the surrounding wall leads to this cave, which the monks created in 1921 to thank the Blessed Virgin for protecting the abbey and its occupants during the First World War.
 
A 4.4 mile hike starts from the monastery and wends its way through woods and parks, along hedges and wooded slopes, through fields and meadows.
 
 
Belgian hops
Westvleteren is located in the west of Belgium, near the French border. Hops have been grown in this rural region since the Middle Ages. It is, therefore, the ideal place to set up a brewery. Moreover, the monks of Saint SixtusAbbey still use the hops from this land.
 
The centre of hop production is located 6 miles further away, in the town of Poperinge. You can visit the hop museum, cycle along the 27 miles of the “Hoppeland” (Hopland) route, take guided tours led by hop growers and go to the triennial hop festival, which is taking place again in 2008 (19th-21st September).
 
 
Practical information
Abdij Sint-Sixtus / Ontmoetingscentrum In de Vrede
Donkerstraat 12
8640 Westvleteren
Tel: +32 (0)70 210045
 
Dienst Toerisme
Grote Markt 1
8970 Poperinge
Tel: +32 (0)57 346676
www.poperinge.be
 
Hopmuseum
Gasthuisstraat 71
B-8970 Poperinge
Tel: +32(0)57 337922  
 
 

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