If the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado just whet your whistle rather than quenched your thirst for the brewed beverage, perhaps its time to take a road trip – errr, flight – to the mecca of beer: Belgium. Try some true holy water, brewed by the Belgium monks themselves.
By Xandy Bustamante
Be sure to check out part one, Beer Vacation: The Great American Beer Festival, Denver, Colorado.
It is time to do something different for your guys weekend, bachelor party, man date or whatever you choose to call your male bonding experiences. While last time I told you about all that is glorious in sunny Colorado, (yes it is sunny there almost all the time by the way, 300+ days of sunshine) it is time to step out of your boundaries with your friends, and no I am not talking about taking dance lessons with your cubicle mate Bob.
What I am talking about is taking a trip to Belgium, where those who choose to go on a more permanent guys weekend, monks, make some of best beers in the world.
As even a casual beer drinker you may have heard of all the buzz Belgian beers receive. From hearing about their quality from a local bartender or noticing the strangely named microbrews referring to the devil, doubles, triples or blondes (who doesn’t like hearing about blondes after all) Belgian’s have been the ‘in’ beers for quite sometime. If you are lucky you may even be able to find a dedicated Belgian beer bar near you.
But why settle for hearing about the great Belgian beers, when you can make the trip to the heart of artisan beers yourself?
While this trip may not for the faint hearted (and by that I mean those operating on a tight budget) it will guarantee to make every beer snob in your town jealous, and chances are this trip would make even the brewer at your local watering hole buy you a couple of pints just to try and be invited.
So if you are a beer lover, and feel like making the ultimate pilgrimage to the holy land of beer (literally) I invite you to take an Ultimate Beer Vacation.
Trappist Road Trip: Belgium, Monks, and Techno….Oh My!
What Beers to look for
Well you are in Belgium to drink Belgians so you better beef up on your Wits, Doubles, Triples and Quads for this one. Beer in Belgium is actually very easy to categorize and most Belgian beers appeal to even the most untrained palate, as they are sweet, spicy, and most important, highly alcoholic. To overly simplify the styles for you: Wits are wheat’s, Doubles are brown, Triples are golden, Quads are deliciously boozy, and Lambic’s are fruity and can taste like sour green apple occasionally. If you are new to Belgians stick to the Wits and Triples, and for those who enjoy a challenge stick to the quads and lambics as these styles rank as some of the best the world has to offer. Seriously they are good.
How to Travel
Well first by plane, unless you are a very good swimmer or have a friend that operates a pirate ship (Arrrh!). Fly into Brussels, it is directly in the middle of the small country of Belgium. Belgium, besides being the holy land of beer, also happens to be the country in which the famous WWII Battle of the Bulge took place, so if any of your friends start complaining about being your wingman as you chat up a native, or that all this good beer has made his tummy ache, simply remind them of Vince Vaughn’s famous words, “Band of Brothers, watch it sometime.”
Now there are two ways to travel to the Trappist breweries in Belgium depending on you and your friend’s personalities; by car or by bike.
While by car is by far the easiest (and quickest) way to hit the Trappist breweries, Belgium is known as one of the best cycling countries in Europe, and is small enough to make such a trip feasible. In fact one the largest craft breweries in the US, New Belgium Brewing, even named their brewery and one of their beers, Fat Tire Amber Ale, in honor of the owners bike tour through Belgium that helped inspire them to start their own brewery. So if you and your friends are avid cyclists this would combine two great trips into one, but for me….the beer and a car is good enough! (Though not at the same time of course.)
What to Do
While there are seven Trappist breweries I am going to keep my recommendations down to visit just one Trappist and one ‘non’ Trappist brewery…wait what the heck is a Trappist brewery?
A Trappist brewery is a brewery operated by an order of Trappist monks. All Trappist brewery profits go to support the monks who live there as well as charitable causes, which is pretty cool. Also if your lady-friend gives you a hard time about going to Europe with your buddies instead of her…you can just tell her it is for a good cause. The reason I am telling you to go to just one Trappist is quite simple as well. Trappist monks don’t like people. Instead they like to brew some of the best beers in the world and drink it in private.
(When you think about it though it makes a bit more sense, no one bothering you, just you and your guy buddies, and of course unlimited quantities of the best beer in the world? These guys have it made! I wonder if they get ESPN?)
If you are a true Beer aficionado by all means go to all of the Trappist Breweries…but for the average man two breweries is enough as most of the action in Belgium happens in it’s larger towns such as Brussels.
Your first stop should be to what can be considered the best brewery in the world, as they produce, at least according to consumer websites like beeradvocate.com or ratebeer.com the best beer in the world; Westvleteren 12, more commonly referred to as the Westy 12. While you cannot actually visit the brewery you will visit the nearby café de Vrede which is the one of the only legal spots to buy Wstvleteren products in the world. While it may seem a little absurd to visit a café in a tiny little country in the middle of nowhere for one beer…just trust me its worth it. The Westy 12 is a quadruple and can only be described using Ben Franklin’s famous words “Beer is God’s proof that he loves us.” This beer is pure joy and if you get a chance to go to Café De Vrede, make sure to buy several bottles to bring back with you as not only is it fun to say you have the best beer in the world in your cellar (yes cellar this beer) but you can make a pretty penny selling them to people like me who can’t afford to go to Belgium very often.
The next brewery I would recommend (and these guys are actually nice enough to let you in) is St. Bernardus brewery, and while it is not a traditional Trappist brewery, it is still one of the best breweries in the world and lucky for you, is only a few minutes away from the Westyleteren Brewery and its famous beer. While you can find St. Bernardus in better beer stores and bars in the U.S. nothing quite beats having a beer where it is made. Make sure to call and reserve a tour, and while most of the time the tour guide may not speak English, (mostly likely just French and Dutch) it will give you a sneak peak into what a traditional Belgian brewery looks like.
The rest of you time in Belgium should be spent visiting the many beer pubs and bars that will not only have some if not all of the Trappist brewery products available but will also carry many of the other Beers (and real Belgian Blondes) that make this tiny country famous.
During your stay in Brussels you must visit Le Bier Circus (no clowns included) with over 550 beers this is a beer festival unto itself and considering most of them are vintage Belgians ranging from Iambics to Quadruples you can have quite a night at this place.
When you want to step away from Beer for a while (yes I said it and now I am going to Beer Hell) you might want to try out one of Brussels’ swanky clubs like Le Fuse where you can find not only a stiff drink but also listen to Europe’s latest techno beats with world class DJ’s while trying to improve our current state of international relations.
So if you are in the mood for a guys weekend that centers around the best beer in the world, monks, techno, and girls with pretty accents, a Trappist road trip is what you need my friend. So go to Belgium and enjoy an Ultimate Beer Vacation.
Oregon Brewers Festival — The largest lawn party in the country.
Seattle’s Beer Blogger grew up in Santa Rosa, CA surrounded by such great breweries as Sierra Nevada and Russian River Brewing. Thanks to a father’s love (of good beer that is) he realized at an early age that beer is too precious a thing to be pumped out of factories reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle.’ Studying, working, and drinking in the Beer Mecca of Boulder, Colorado for 5 years affirmed his belief that craft beer is really the drink of the Gods. Xandy has now moved on to another famous beer region, the Pacific Northwest, and has started to explore what the regions festivals, micro-breweries, and brewpubs have to offer. Check out his blog at www.seattlebeer.blogspot.com.