30 December, 2007

Our Beer Pilgramage to Abbay of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren

Once we had solid plans to spend a few days in Brussels and Bruges after Christmas, I quickly called up the Abbay at Westvleteren to see if it would be possible to purchase some of their fine beer. First you have to call the automated phone line and find out what day you have to call back, at what time, and what beer or beers are available for purchase. The availability depends on what has recently been produced and is ready for sale. They seem to alternate what is available and spread it out so that they don’t run out of any one beer for too long.

We found out that we had to call a few days before our trip, 20 December between 9am and noon, to make a reservation and we also found out that the Blonde and 12 would be available. Knowing that the 12 would be available I had a strong feeling it would be very hard to get through on the phone. Both Paula and I called on the 20th and found it very hard to get through but eventually at about 11:30 am or so we got through and made a reservation for 2 crates of the Blonde. The 12 was long sold out at that point.

My original plan was to try to visit the Abbay while we were in Bruges as the travel time from there is a bit shorter than from Brussels but when we got through to the Abbay, the only day we could pick up beer was on the 27th, when we were still in Brussels, but we jumped at the chance to purchase any amount of beer at anytime.

Our appointment was for 2:15 pm on the 27th and we had a drive of about 1 and ½ hours so we left around noon so that we didn’t miss our time. The drive to the Abbay is a fairly easy one as the greatest part of the journey is on the motorways with only 10 or so miles on roads through little towns. Our GPS device got us there very easily, despite a little detour right before the Abbay on some farm roads.

The Abbay is not that well signed or that prominent but when drive up to it, you know you are there. We arrived about an hour early to be safe and we also hoped visit the café across from the Abbay as they usually have the Westvleteren beers for sale but unfortunately the In Verde café was not open while we were there. Probably running under holiday hours.

To help kill some time before our appointment, I got out of the car and did a little walk about the Abbay as they have some walking paths that you can stroll along. I headed down a little dirt road toward what looked to be a grotto. It was about a 100 or 150 yard walk until I got close to the little grotto or outside chapel. When things were really in sight I realized that there were 2 people kneeling or standing at the alter and they were not just people, they were monks from the Abbay. As soon as I saw them I quickly turned around and walked back the way I came so that I would not disturb their praying.

We stayed in a little parking lot at the front of the Abbay waiting for our time to arrive. It looked like the appointments started at 2pm as a few cars started to line up at that point. It seemed very organized as the cars would like up and drive into a horseshoe shaped driveway. At 2:15 pm we drove into the driveway and found only 2 other cars in queue which was nice. The car in front of us had 3 empty crates of beers to return and then he picked up 2 new crates of the Blonde beer. He was in and out in just 3 or 4 minutes. We were also in and out in a very short period of time. When I was first in line, I pulled up to a man that was loading stacks and stacks of crates. I got out, gave him my license plate number and he helped me load my 2 crates into my trunk. After I stopped smiling so much, I went into the little office and paid for the beer. The man who was loading the beers is also in charge of cashing you out. If you bring back empty bottles and a crate, the case of Blonde costs €22 but if you need the bottles and crate like I did, a case costs €34 in total, a steal in my mind seeing that a single bottle of the Blonde sells for about €6 at the cheapest that we have seen at bottle shops. You can even use a credit card to pay for your beer purchase but the quantity that I was able to purchase didn’t warrant a credit card but if I could have purchased more, I surely would have.

Since we were not able to visit the café and we only purchased Blonde on this day, we will surely be back for more trips to the Abbay now that we know how to get here and how the process works.

Take a look at pictures from our Westvleteren visit.

1 comment:

David said...

Yes you suck. :P That is all.