I have a reoccurring daydream that I elaborate on each time I think of it. I find myself walking around an ancient village with cobbled streets and wooden framed buildings, there is the hustle and bustle of people trading from the fronts of the buildings and a mass of people moving from store to store browsing the wares on offer. I ask one of the shopkeepers if he could direct me to a store where I could buy some locally brewed beer and he points up a steep cobbled street. Walking up the hill people become noticeably scarce and the street gets steeper, walking on the cobbles is calf busting work.
Looking up I can see an Abbey at the top of the hill, washed out and almost grey in the haze of the day. A few people are walking down from the abbey but most seem to be on a pilgrimage to the top. As I get closer I noticed a queue forming, people are standing chatting and slowly moving forward. I ask the last person in the queue if I was in the right place for beer, he nods and gestures toward the large oak door at the entrance to the Abbey. I join the queue.
After about half an hour I reach the front of the door and knock, mimicking the actions of the previous people in the queue that I had so intently watched. A small window in the door opens and an elderly bald headed man with a hood bluntly says ‘name’ I give him my name and he turns away. When he turns back he hands me a piece of paper and says “Thursday 3pm, no return for 60 days” and then shuts the window. I turn to the person behind me in the queue and they act as if this was the normal state of play. It seems that I was not to get any beer but should return on Thursday at three.
When Thursday comes I return to the village and make my way again slowly up the cobbled hill only to be greeted with a much longer queue of people but this time they have trolleys and carts with them. I join the back and notice the vibe is a lot more vibrant with a gentle hum of excitement. After an hour I reach the front of the queue to be greeted by the view of stacks of dark bottles in wooden crates, a Trappist monk is taking the slips of paper, crossing names from a list and dealing out the crates. Money is exchanged.
When it’s my turn, I hand over my slip of paper and am asked “how many? maximum of three at forty Euro per crate” I can only carry one so hand over forty euros in exchange for a wooden crate of 24 dark bottles. The bottles have no label and the only marking is on the crown cap with the bottle embossed ‘Trappist’
I thank the monk and make my way back down the hill with a massive grin on my face.
This is an elaboration in my head of a actual Trappist Abbey in Westvleteren, Belgium which brews beer within the walls of the Abbey. They sell their beer to the public to help fund the Monastic life. They have no advertising, no labels on the bottles and the beer must not be re-sold. You must book an appointment, let them know your vehicle registration and then you receive a collection date. You can’t return for 60 days, your vehicle is logged.
This is said to be the best beer in the World.
I will do this trip in the campervan, it’s 330 miles from home (using the Chunnel) and should take about six hours to get there. If I can find a campsite near the Abbey I can imaging that evening to be a very merry one!
What is Trappist Beer?
Trappist beer is one of my favourite styles of beer. The name ‘Trappist’ is legally protected and may only be used for beer brewed by Trappist monks in their monastery. Of all Belgian beers only six who bear the name Trappist; Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren.
In total ten monasteries, six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Austria and one in the United States currently brew beer and sell it as an Authentic Trappist Product.
Westvleteren is pronounced: “Vest vLeter ren”
Some of the Trappist beers I’ve tried …