Topping off the bike tour with the Best Beer in the World
It felt like Christmas morning when you wake up hours before your parents and are left to stare at a room full of presents. Only instead of presents we were waiting for the socially acceptable hour to drink the beer that we spent the last two weeks biking towards. And we weren’t about to wait. Inspired by the brews to come we got out of the house and on the road by 9am. We headed toward Watou to see St. Bernardus, our favorite Belgian beer available in the States. Then we were heading to Westvleteren to try the most sought after beer in the world.
Our friend in Poperinge said that St. Bernardus gives tours of the brewery. We called them in the morning, and they said they definitely don’t do tours. Either way we decided to check it out. For this last day we were able to leave the trailer and head out with just the panniers to haul in our booty. It was really incredible riding without the trailer for the first time this trip. We felt like beer-motivated super heroes jetting along in the crisp morning air.
Just about every minor road in Flanders seems to be a bike route. We saw posted signs on every corner marking directions and route numbers. You can pick up maps that have the paths marked for you at the bookstores in town. Most routes seem to be loop paths but you can usually connect them through to your destination. We were still in awe at how flat it is in this area. The route was really scenic. We were riding through hop fields most of the day. In fact it was a perfect day for riding since we had sun, a little bit of wind and beer on the horizon.
We made it to St. Bernardus in Watou at around 9:45am. We went into the beer shop and were hoping for some postcards and to get a few of their other beers not available in the states. Sadly they didn’t have any postcards and they only sold the beers by the crate and in sample packs. Wanting to save space for all the Westvleteren we were hoping to get we decided to skip the sample pack. I was tempted to buy the happy monk cycling jersey but decided I was happy with our free coasters. We also asked again if they did tours and they confirmed that we wouldn’t be seeing the inside of the brewery anytime soon. Oh well.
We pushed on toward Westvleteren and hoped it would be open. We saw a group of buildings on the horizon and figured that had to be the abbey. It was definitely the most underwhelming of the abbeys we had been to so far and we were not terribly surprised. From our research we knew the monks of St. Sixtus like to keep a low profile and be left in peace to pursue their religious practice. Despite increasing demand for their beer they only produce what is necessary to support the monastery. It is an interesting contrast with other Trappist breweries and their global distribution, I’m looking at you, Chimay. Given the reputation at Westvleteren we were surprised to look across the street from the Abbey and see a giant parking lot complete with bus parking for the gift shop and restaurant.
We arrived at 10:30 and from the looks of things on the outside we assumed it was closed. I mean who goes there to drink beer at 10:30 in the morning? Well, only one way to find out. We tried the door and it was in fact open, we weren’t even the first customers to arrive. I guess the best beer in the world waits for no one. We rationalized our pre-noon drinking by ordering food, that’s makes drinking anytime of day socially acceptable, right?
During lunch we sampled both the blond and the brown which were excellent, but we saved the quadruple for dessert. While we were digesting I went to the gift shop to see what beer was available for us to take home. They only had the brown available at one six pack per person. I asked for two (one for me and one for Briana) and they said they could only give me one. I actually had to point her out in the restaurant to get the go ahead for the second sixer. High security, that place. We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t get the twelve to take home but we weren’t going to pass up taking home the brown either.
Then came the tasting we had been waiting for. We have had our fair share of quadruples at this point and prior to tasting the Westvleteren we decided that nothing beat the St. Bernardus Abt 12. After all it’s allegedly the same recipe as the Westvleteren with different yeast. After tasting it we can honestly say that the hype is on to something—the Westvleteren 12 was really amazing. It was smooth and easy drinking which is difficult to get considering it is 11% alcohol. Even as it warmed, the flavor became a little bolder without any harsh alcohol finish. I might have to agree with everyone that it is in fact the best beer in the world. But I might need to go back for another sample just to be sure.
We spent most of the morning and early afternoon sitting in the restaurant. It was really fun to drink our beer and watch the people come in, order a beer, and get a six pack to go. Every type of person came in there to pick up beer. We had a good laugh when we noticed one family even brought their 12 year old along so they could get an extra 6 pack. Spending the morning there was quite an experience. It made the trip that much better to finally have arrived and tried the best beer in the world.
View Poperinge Brewery Circle in a larger map