Taste the Belgian brewing culture
Do you like pleasant weekends, punctuated by artisanal experiences, small brewing visits and enjoying good local food? No hesitation, you have to spend a weekend in Hoppenland (Land of Hops) in West Flanders! The region is magnificent and has many hikes. Admire hop fields, the beautiful breweries and sleep in charming cottages … We go there every year to recharge our batteries and to spend some time at the Abbey Sixtus… to buy some delicious beer Westvleteren! This is our annual brewing pilgrimage.
The region can be visited all year round, but be aware that the hop fields are high and splendid in August and early September. There is a tremendous amount of hikes and sightseeing to do in the area, by foot or by bike. The town of Poperinge offers several routes and ideas on their website.
Three activities are essential!
- Visit the hop farm ‘T Hoppecruyt
- Order and taste beers at Westvleteren Abbey (plan this well in advance!)
- Visit and tasting at the Sint-Bernardus Brewery
1. Don't miss the ‘t Hoppecruyt visit
Hop has existed for centuries in Belgium. But… The hop fields in Belgium almost completely disappeared. Today, the overwhelming majority of hops used in our Belgian beers comes from foreign countries. The biggest producers are the United States, Germany and the Czech Republic.
However, certain irreducible small hops farms in Poperinge resisted! Including ‘t Hoppecruyt; a family, local and ecological hop plantation. The visit is definitely worth the detour. During this visit about 1h30, the smiling and friendly owner, Benedikte Coutigny, takes you through her authentic and charming farm! She reveals all the secrets of her work, opens the doors of her hangars and makes you taste the local beer brewed with their own hops; the “Hommel bier”.
The best moment of the visit, which will forever be engraved in our memory, is when Bénédickte takes out her accordion to sing us a song from her region in dialect! A nice exchange with local and passionate producers. An authentic experience… What else? Thank you Bénédikte!
Tours are around € 8 per person. For any info or reservation, please visit their website.
2. Westvleteren & Saint-Sixte Abbey
Westvleteren 12 … Also called the Holy Grail of beer, this mythical dark beer has an exquisite smooth taste of caramel and chocolate that goes perfectly well with the sweet raisin and nutty notes in the aroma. It is brewed under the supervision of the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of Saint-Sixte and they have been brewing since 1839.
Westvleteren has a fantastic brewing knowledge, but they don’t brew more than what they need.Following the monastic rules of Saint-Benedictus, making a profit is not a purpose. The monks sell enough beer in order to finance their religious community and to support some welfare organisations. Their motto is very clear: “We don’t live to brew, we brew to live”.
The abbey produces cheese, jams and 3 types of beer: the blond beer, Westvleteren 8 and Westvleteren 12 – the one which has been voted the best beer in the world several times. You can find a bottle of 33cl in specialized stores in Brussel, but be ready to pay between 15 to 18 € ! Very expensive for the Belgian beer market, especially when you know that you only pay 2,5€ a bottle if you get it yourself at the Abbey!
This high price is explained by its rarity and the difficulty of obtaining it. With some exceptions, selling Westvleteren in stores is not allowed. To get the beer, you have to order online and get them directly at the abbey (more recently, you can ask for a home delivery). In any case, you can only order 48 bottles per car (not per person!). You must wait 6 weeks before you can order again.
So yes, it’s hard to get, but it’s worth the effort! Passing with your car through this Abbey “Drive-in”, collecting your order and enjoying your own Westvleteren is undoubtedly a pleasure. Even if you can not visit this monastic place, you have some nice walks around and this pilgrimage remains a beautiful experience.
Do not forget to finish your day with a nice beer tasting in the opposite café “In de Vrede” and to visit their shop. Good to know: in the shop, you can still buy 3 Westvleteren 6-bottle packs at a reasonable price! And don’t hesitate to buy their pâté and cheese as well … It is very tasty!
3. Visit of the Sint-Bernardus Brewery
After Westvleteren, we highly recommend you to visit the Sint-Bernardus brewery in Watou. This modern brewery has a very close connection with Westvleteren beer. As explained during the visit, the brewers have been brewing the beer of the Westvleteren for decades. But in 1992, the monks decided to take over the brewing business and to brew within the walls of their monastery. The Sint-Bernardus brewers respected this choice… However, they did not want to close their doors. They continued to brew their beer, while keeping the recipes inherited from the monks… In other words, the Sint-Bernardus beer is very similar to Westvleteren 12. But unlike Westvleteren, Sint-Bernadus beer is very easy to obtain.
The challenge is obviously to compare the two beers! Are you going to be able to tell them apart? The exercise is harder than it looks! Little tip: Westvleteren 12 beer is sweeter and has a more elegant foam. Good luck !
For more information on the tour and the brewery, do not hesitate to consult their website.
Enjoy your stay in Hoppenland! Santé!