Yes, it’s possible to find good beer in the tourist hot spots of Belgium like Bruges, Brussels, and Ghent. All three boast plenty of beer bars from quaint cafes carrying national rarities to mega bars stocked with thousands of selections (and backpackers). However, the best way to explore Belgium beer is to rent a car, head out of the big cities, and visit the far-flung monasteries and breweries, most of whose offerings are not sold in the bigger cities.
One city that has in particular been drawing beer tourists’ attention is Westvleteren. While many flock to the area to drink the much sought after Westvleteren 12 from Saint Sixtus Abbey (Beer Advocate’s Best Beer in the World), nearby Saint Bernardus and De Struise are also worth visiting. As De Struise is only open on Saturdays from 2.00pm – 6.00pm, plan your trip accordingly.
Saint Bernardus Watou
If you can, try to book a room at the brewery’s bed and breakfast. 95 EUR (105 USD) a night includes breakfast, courtesy bikes (first come, first serve), and a beer sampling. The bed and breakfast only has 11 rooms, and they do book up so be sure to plan well in advance. If you can’t land a room at the brewery, tours and sampling are still an option on a reservation basis. Contact the brewery to find out when they’re offering one in your preferred language of Dutch, English, or French.
De Struise BrouwersThe brewery’s old-school house tasting room definitely offers an education in beer. The brewery typically has 30 different beers on draft. De Struise operates very close in philosophy to the American craft beer movement brewing both traditional Belgian offerings alongside their own creative brews. The flagship is Pannepot, a farmhouse ale that’s a cross between a Belgian dark and a stout. I recommend trying some fresh from the brewery and taking a few bottles home to age. This beer only gets better with time (true story). To help pick other beers to sample, tell the tasting room staff your preferences, and they’ll pour you something to fit your tastes.
If you are in town on a day other than Saturday, don’t fret. ‘T Molenhof, a restaurant across the street, offers a wide variety of De Struise beers. When I was there, they walked me through a vertical tasting of Pannepot aged various years. I highly recommend doing the same.
Saint Sixtus AbbeyAs I teased early, your trip to Westvleteren does include sipping Beer Advocate’s Best Beer in the World almost directly from its source. Notice that I said almost. You can’t actually belly up to the bar in the monastery and bump mugs with the monks. Instead, beer pilgrims sip from the holy grail of beer across the street in the cafe In De Vrede.
Why make the trip then? The answer is easy. This beer is hard to find. If you can find it, chances are the prices are marked up, and it hasn’t been stored properly. Plus, if you’re lucky (like I was), you might actually be there on a day when they’re selling beer to go. The café does offer good food, too. I recommend anything with the abbey cheese and their ice cream topped with Trappist beer shavings.
Enjoy but be careful!
As I end all articles I write on beer tourism, never drink and drive. While you are renting a car to access Westvleteren since public transportation won’t get you close enough, you only need the car to get there. Once you are in the region, you can bike to all three of the above mentioned breweries. Belgium is very bike friendly, and most hotels offer bike rentals (sometimes at no extra cost). Or, ask if your hotel offers a shuttle like Hotel ’T Heilig Genot offers guests.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.