Westvleteren - At long last! - Belgian Beer Experience
 
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Sorry, Carlsberg, this is "probably" the best beer in the world
I finally made my first trip out to the Sint Sixtus Abbey in west Flanders for some Westvleteren! It's over 90 minutes from Brussels, but well worth the trip (especially since I, like most Belgians, have a company car with free fuel).

I drove out there with two other beer-loving friends to fetch the beer that is customarily named the best in the world. Before making the trip, I phoned the hotline at the brewery, presumably manned by the Trappist monks who work there and make the stuff. I was lucky to discover the beer they were offering was Westvleteren 12, their flagship dark brew.

You're limited to two cases per vehicle per month (they note your license plate when you place your order) to make access to this hard-to-find beer even more limited. I've only ever seen it sold in 2-3 bars in Belgium, and then for as much as €12 for a single 33cl bottle!

When you buy it here at the brewery, it still isn't cheap. You have to fork over deposit for the bottles and the rustic wooden crate, bringing your total to around €100 for two cases, or about €4 per bottle. But boy is it worth it!

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Beer pickup
It's all about the Balance
I found this beer worth the hype. It is so rich and well-balanced, with tones of toffee and burnt caramel and the exact right amount of carbonation. You have to remind yourself that at more than 10% ABV, it's closer to a wine in alcohol content than a beer. I'd find myself daydreaming and longing to try this beer all the time in the days after my visit, wondering how long my stash would last. But don't take my word for its quality - see what others say.

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Another happy customer
It's to be savored for special occasions. It's not your Tuesday-night-after-dinner beer. Near the monastery they have a cafe dedicated to Westvleteren where they serve all three versions - 6, 10 and 12. We tried all three and although the 12 is far and away the best, the others are excellent too. I found the 6 really drinkable and strategically important since I still had a drive of more than 90 minutes back to Brussels.

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Next time, I'd say make a weekend of it. Book your Westvleteren in advance the next time they're offering the 12 and add in a visit to Dolle Brouwers brewery in Diksmuide (fortuitously open Sundays) and a stop at the moving Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres to dedicate the WW1 battles (though closed on and off until 2014 anniversary observances).




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