Sunday, May 20, 2012

Belgium Day 3: Westvleteren & Struise

I promised Jo I wouldn't be quite so long winded today like I was yesterday. We'll see if I can manage it. Yesterday our plan was to visit the abbey of St. Sixtus and then head on a bit further to check out the Struise brewery. To get there we took a train to the town of Poperinge and then rented bikes to do the 3km or so trip to Westvleteren and cafe In de Vrede.

After about twenty minutes of smelling manure and having a billion flies hit me in the face (seriously, so many flies it was crazy), we arrived at the abbey of St. Sixtus. A little history first. The abbey is a real monastery with real monks living there. To support it they sell a small amount of beer under the monicker of Westvleteren in three different styles: blonde, 8, and 12. The most popular one on BeerAdvicate is the 12 and at times it is also the highest rated beer which is funny since the monks don't sell it anywhere but at the abbey. You can buy some for take away but that's it. The other way to try it is to get a seat at the cafe In de Vrede across the street and that's what we did.

The first one I ordered was of course the 12. It's basically a quad but they refer to it as a Bruno since the quad style isn't really recognized in Belgium. Clove in the nose with a little plum sweetness. Very smooth on the first sip. Caramel and plum are the major flavors with a little chocolate in the back end as those flavors come together. Some alcohol was apparent but not at all bad for around 11%. People like to claim it isn't that good fresh but I thought it was an excellent representation of the style. Delicious.

Next I got a glass of the 8 while Jo got a glass of the blonde. The 8 had a lighter nose than the 12 and had a little more chocolate than clove. Body followed with chocolate, caramel and a little hint of sweetness and clove in the finish. I liked the 12 slightly better but this one was definitely less harsh than it. I can totally see why some people prefer this one though.

I also took a few sips of the blonde that Jo ordered. That was a different experience as it had a spicy nose and was a much sharper beer. Lighter body obviously with a spicy pepperiness almost. Glad I tried it but also glad I just ordered a second glass of the 12 instead of a full one of these. Jo's favorite was the 8 as the 12 was too much for her.

The food at In de Vrede was very simple but it's also quite inexpensive. We got two sandwiches which were tasty enough. The star for me though was the ice cream made with the Westvleteren 12. That was really good and if you're there you should order it for sure.

To finish up our trip we biked over to Oostvleteren and Struise. The brewery isn't actually up and running really so Urbain was over at Deca where they do their full brewing. Instead, we got to chat with his daughter Axelle and opened a bottle of their Pannepeut which was tasty.

The train may be kind of long and you kind of end up in the middle of nowhere, but this trip was really worth doing once. If you have the time it was quite fun and the bike ride was super easy and really flat. I'm glad to have tried all three Westvleteren beers and to check out the Struise school. So cool.

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