Today we moved a whole 15km to a nice aire on a farm in the village of Westvlateren. It is a very small village known for St Sixtus Abby and Brewery. The setting is beautiful but unfortunately they just cut the hay in the field next to the aire and Ton who has been fighting allergies this entire trip is really suffering.
As we have been traveling around Belgium we have kept hearing about this mythical beer from Westvleteren. When we were in Amsterdam we ran into an Australian who proudly mentioned he had found some bottles of it for sale in Brussels and was happy to get 3 of them for only €19 each. When we moved to Bruges we also heard about this beer from some other people. Ton began doing her research and it turns out it is considered by some beer connoisseurs to be the best beer in the world, and it was very difficult to buy it as you had to make an appointment and you were limited to 48 bottles at a time. The problem is that the phone to call to make an appointment receives over 80,000 calls per day so it is very hit or miss whether you can get an appointment. The monks are very concerned as their beer has been growing in popularity about people gouging others. They closely control distribution to minimize people inflating prices, but it is still happening like our Australian friend in Brussels discovered. At the brewery the bottles sell for €4.
We were still not planning to visit the brewery until last night when we decided to spend the day in the vicinity of Poperinge which is the biggest Hops producing town in Belgium. When I began to look for a place to stay around Poperinge it turns out there is an aire close to the Westvleteren Abby. Ton did some more research and found out that the monks did allow one cafe to sell their beer over the counter in the village, so here we are.
We started the day by going to Poperinge to visit the hop museum. It was an interesting presentation on hop production in the region. It focused mostly on the farming of the hops and was full of equipment and detailed descriptions of how hop farming techniques had changed in the area thru history. At the end it had examples of every Belgian Beer currently in production by region.
The next stop was the Westvleteren Cafe which along with the Abby is pretty much the entire town. The aire was supposed to be 1km from the Abby but that turned out to be as the crow flies, so after a half hour walk around the fields between us and the abby we arrived hot and ready for a cold beer. It took a while to be served as we have not quite mastered the way of getting a Belgian servers attention, but we finally put in our order for one of each of the 3 beers they produce here. The first is a blonde, the second is a dark beer with 8% alcohol, and the reported best beer in the world is the dark beer with 12% alcohol. They were all excellent, but our conclusion was that the dark 12 was indeed the best.
As we were leaving we stopped in their gift shop to pick up a memory of the trip, and discovered we could buy a six pack of the dark 12. So as I am typing this I am happily sipping on one of the best beers in the world.