Sunday, August 2, 2009

Belgian Beer

Hi all - it's Andrew back from another adventure.

This time it was a trip to Belgium with Grace and Mia. Even though we're leaving for Crested Butte on Monday afternoon, I still felt there was a little time left for a mini-adventure this past weekend.

It all started about eight weeks ago when I was staying in Kortrijk Belgium the night before some client meetings. Just outside my hotel in the city center was a beach volleyball tournament - that night was the first night and it was going to go on through the weekend. To make a long story short, I met the captain of the national team and drank beers with his team-mates. They had plenty of time to drink as they didn't have to play until the weekend matches. Anyway, one of the guys told me about what is quite literally the best beer in the world - one that is subsequently impossible to obtain.

You see, the only place to buy Trappist Westvleteren 12 is from the abbey where it is brewed in Westvleteren Belgium. This beer is not commercially available anywhere in the world and it's only sold by appointment at the abbey. ( About five weeks ago, when I was on my way driving to Clermont-Ferrand France, I had a window to call the abbey and make an appointment. It took me 73 attempts until my call went through - I was able to get an appointment for Sat Aug 1st at 3.45pm. In order to secure the appointment, I had to give my license plate number and cell phone - one case per car per month - and had to agree to never re-sell the beer to another party. Luckily (for me) it's for personal consumption only.

As time went on, I hemmed and hawed over weather I should actually keep the appointment or not. You see, Westvletern is about 400KM from Caen and it is in as remote of an area of Belgium as you can find. In fact, look it up on Google Maps - you'll see nothing but farms in all directions. The fact that this is one of seven Trappist monasteries in the world that can brew this type of beer, and the fact that it's the only one of the seven that doesn't sell it to basically anybody, led me to going forward with the road trip.

Originally, I was going to take Ella with me - she's older and is less prone to barfing in the car as are Grace and Mia. When Ella turned down the 800KM round trip drive I offered to Mia - who immediately accepted. Then, Grace heard abut a trip to Belgium and she immediately joined the guest list too. We hit the road at 9am Saturday and crossed our fingers that the GPS could find the town we were looking for.

Luckily, no barfing occurred that day - probably because I only gave them both a couple of crumbs and some water for breakfast and rice cakes for a snack (had Gaga been staying with us they would have eaten a stack of pancakes with artichokes and cherries on top :-).

The last 20 minutes of the drive were on roads so small there was no room for 2 cars - these are literally asphalt paths carved in the middle of corn fields, hops stands, wheat, barley, and all kinds of other agriculture. We arrived at the town and saw 2 signs - one to the beer pick up and one to the gift shop. I chose the former and ended up on a half circle driveway with one other car, a monk, and a half of a pallet of beer. Six minutes later I had my new stash and was able to park to go to the gift shop.

Luckily, the gift shop is really a nice beer garden - inside and outside pic-nic tables for tasting the fare that only a few lucky soles are able to buy in bulk. Grace, Mia, and I went outside and found an open table in the middle of it all. There was a tiny miniature park inside as well - Grace and Mia played a bit while I ordered a beer, some strawberry milks, and a cheese plate.

When G&M saw their first-ever strawberry milks delivered, their eyes popped literally out of their heads. The couldn't believe such a drink existed on this earth. I felt the same way after taking my first sip of Trappist 12 - it's quite literally amazing... After a bit of eating, drinking, and talking one of the guys at the table next to us turned around and said "hello". He was from Michigan and recognized my American accent. To make a long story short - which is hard in Blog land - the guy and I got to talking and he moved over to my table. Turns out, he was on vacation with is wife and 3 kids - the wife and kids happened to be at Euro Disney in Paris. He was in Belgium with the Priest from his church back in Michigan...

Turns out, this priest received a Lilly Grant (yes, Eli Lilly in Indy) - the grant was for him to spend time in Europe re-inventing himself or something. Oh, yes, it also included a provision for him to visit all 7 Trappist monasteries in Belgium (well, one is in Holland, but right on the edge). These two had spend the past two weeks going to each one, meeting people, meeting the monks who brewed the beers, taking notes etc. The priest had a notebook filled with notes about every beer they had sampled, how it tasted, how he felt, and who knows what else. I offered to buy the next round - 3 Trappist 12s and 2 Strawberry milks (at which point G&M's eyeballs popped out once again). Unfortunately for the priest, Grace dumped my entire freshly poured beer on this poor guy's notebook and lap. I mean, imagine this - the guy's entire point of his journey is to go to all these places, drink, eat, talk, take notes, and change his life (or whatever) - and my daughter dumped my beer on all of his notes.... Let's just say that for all of our sakes we're lucky this guy was a priest or we may have not made it out of there in one piece....

Seeing in that Grace had hit her wall after only 2 strawberry milks, I decided we better hit the road to Ieper Belgium. This is a forgettable town about 15 minutes from the abbey which to our great luck happened to have a fair in town that weekend. We checked into the hotel, dropped off our stuff, and headed to the roller coaster and bumper-motorcycles. The night was capped off by a pasta dinner in town and watching some Dutch cartoons on the TV.

The drive home on Sunday was easy because all I kept thinking about was how great that beer was the day-before and how great it will be to try one more with Kate on Sunday night. We all made it home with no problems and - as you can see in the photos - the beer did taste just as good as I remembered.

We'll all be back home in CB on Wednesday - so - for any of you reading this now (if there is anybody :-) we'll see you soon!



  1. maybe it was the double strawberry milk that caused the beer dump!!! Glad you made it and know the girls had a blast with you!! See you on Tuesday with a stack of pancakes with toppings!!!

  2. Those beers look mighty tasty! I'm very glad you went on the adventure and didn't let the distance get in the way. As Kate said in an earlier post - you must take full advantage of the opportunities you have overseas.