Of all the excursion I had planned for my 2013 Europe trip, the bike ride to Cafe In de Vrede was at the top of the list. This cafe is right across the street from the Abbey of Saint Sixtus, a Trappist abbey where one of the world’s highest rated and most sought after beers are brewed.
Both the beer and the abbey are commonly called “Westvleteren”, for the province of Belgium it is located in. The monks of the abbey do not accept beer-tourist visitors, and remain dedicated to a pious life- only brewing enough beer to support the daily operations of the monastery and other charitable causes. Since the beer is brewed in such limited quantities, it is not distributed at all. There are only two sanctioned ways it is available to consumers -by a once a month phone reservation line, where each car is allowed to pick up one case, and in the cafe. (Note: I did see it available in a number of bars in Europe, as well as one in Toronto when I visited there, but none of these are sanctioned by the monks.)
The abbey’s beers, specifically the quad known as Westvleteren 12, makes just about every “World’s Best Beers” list. The abbey also makes a blonde and and abbey-style dubbel known as Westvleteren 8.
I’d stayed the previous night in Poperinge, a quaint small town in the heart of Belgium’s hop growing region. All of my research indicated that there were two ways to get to Westvleteren, by private car or by bike. (There also seemed to be some bus/walk options, but I couldn’t find a solid answer on those.) I rented a bike from the local bike rental shop, just around the corner from my hotel. The proprietor at my hotel told me it was and easy, flat 20-30 minute bike ride, which turned out to be accurate. The route took me though small back lanes and right alongside the trestles used for growing the hops.
I was really excited as I approached the abbey & cafe. The route I had taken had been specifically planned to get the two pictures above, a long shot of the facility and one of me with the ‘famous’ Westvleteren sign.
The cafe is quite nice and modern. I was one of the very first patrons of the day, having arrived just minutes after it’s 10 AM opening.
For my first beer, the was no doubt I was going to order the Westvleteren 12. After all the hype I had read and heard, and with quads not being my favorite style of beer, I expected a letdown. I was pleasantly surprised when I really enjoyed it.
I also ordered a sandwich and salad for lunch, which was reasonably prices and delicious.
For my second beer, I tried the blonde, another style that isn’t a favorite, but as with the 12, I was quite happy with this one. I had tried the Westvlereten 8 at Cafe Gollum in Amsterdam a few days before (knowing I wouldn’t want to have all three then attempt to bike back into Poperinge afterward).
There is also a gift shop on the premises. I still had over two weeks left on the road, I did not buy and of the beers being offered in the store as I knew there was no possibility of me carting them around with me, and even if I tried, there was no way they would not be consumed by the end of the trip. I did, however, buy some of the chocolate truffles made with the beer to share with my friends back in the States when I got home. (They were excellent, BTW.)