This Tour will explore Belgian Trappist and Abbey beers and promises to be a heavenly experience. The Tour is based for five nights at the centrally located Novotel Gent right next to the City cathedral. If you haven't visited Ghent lately, you're in for a surprise as it is fantastically beer-and-bar laden. Have a look at Podge's Ghent Bar Guide which keeps us coming back to Ghent for updates! As if the huge number of beer bars wasn't enough, during our stay on the Saturday the eighth Ghent Beer Festival is taking place. Watch out for updates on www.gentsbierfestival.be.
On the Trappist side we aim to include a visit to the Koningshoeven Trappist Brewery and Monastery in Berkel-Enschot. We will have a brewery tour and beer tasting here. Their brand of beers run to about ten beers under the name La Trappe. We will pay a visit to the Cafe Trappisten in Westmalle, the official Westmalle Monastery Brewery Tap. You can of course drink the famous Westmalle Dubbel (7%abv) here on draught and in bottles the blond Westmalle Tripel (9.5%abv) but a popular drink sold here is the 'half and half' which you might like to sample and which is of course a mix of the two beers. They also offer Westmalle Trappist cheese, made in the monastery by monks from the milk of their own herd of Groningse Blaaskop cows. Though it isn't mentioned on their menu, if you ask you may be able to taste some of the lovely and rarely sold Westmalle Extra (4.8%abv) which is, counter-intuitively, brewed at a lower abv than the Tripel and which is supposed to be what the monks across the road drink. The brewery itself is housed within the high walls of the Trappist Monastery and cloisters down a path opposite this cafe. You can take a walk up to the walls for a photo, but it is strictly no entry.
We will also visit the brewery tap of Sint Sixtus Trappist monastery at Westvleteren, the large cafe In de Vrede which is again opposite the brewery and cloisters where the monks live quietly behind high walls. Here you can sample their three beers, always sold from fresh bottles, not on draught, being the Westvleteren Blonde (green cap), 5.8% abv, introduced in 1999 and replacing a lower gravity dark beer, the Westvleteren 8 (blue cap) (formerly Extra), 8% abv and the Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap) (formerly Abt), a 10.2% abv introduced in 1940. Westvleteren 12, from being a provincially-sought after high gravity beer when there were few others of its kind around, shot to global stardom when it was voted the best beer in the world in 2005. Join us on this Tour to see why. Whilst we are in this corner of West Flanders known as the Westhoek, we will have a full brewery tour visit and a beer tasting at Sint Sixtus' near neighbour Sint Bernardus brewery in Watou. Some years ago when Sint Sixtus stopped brewing they contracted their brewing out to St Bernardus. When Sint Sixtus took brewing back in-house again, Sint Bernardus began to brew their own big, strong, dark beer to the same recipe as they had brewed for Westvleteren, called Abt, which many claim is as good, some say better than Westvleteren 12. We'll be tasting them both on this Tour so why not see if you agree.
For the abbey beer experience we aim to visit Averbode Abbey, brewery and cafe. This is a new project within an old religious site dating back to 1134. We hope to visit the abbey courtyard and magnificent baroque church as well as the new beer-operation in the complex at the West gate of the Abbey. They have built the Het Moment abbeycafé with the brewery inside and an abbey shop. We may have a group meal here with an opportunity to taste a beer uniquely brewed here called Momentum. Another Abbey Beer experience will be at the Gasthof d'Oude Brouwerij, a café located in the former dairy of Affligem Abbey. Affligem Abbey was founded in 1062 by six hermits and is still a working religious Benedictine community opposite this café. In the 12th century Benedictine Monks brewed beer in Affligem but since 1970 brewing was transferred to Brouwerij De Smedt in Opwijk, now owned by Heineken. We will also be heading to the Belgian coast for a visit to the Abbey of the Dunes in Koksijde. We will have a look round the substantial ruins of the Cistercian Ten Duinen Abbey, followed by a St Idesbald abbey beer in the Museum Cafe next to the Abbey ruins. We will be calling in at the Gasthof de Beiaard cafe opposite to the Postel Abbey near Mol up next to the Dutch border.
We will visit Taverne "In den Rozenkrans" or ‘The rosary’ café within the walls of the Vlierbeek Abbey at Kessel-Lo near Leuven. There has been a place where travellers could get refreshment in the Benedictine abbey since its founding. The name the rosary was only given to this café in the 1960s when a television series was filmed here, and the new name above the door in black paint only dates from then. With a beer list which includes Westmalle Dubbel and Chimay Tripel on draught and some Abbey beers, we can have a look round this historic site and church for those who can tear themselves away from the comforts of the café. We will visit a new café called Heerlijk near Ostende run by Vicky and Kevin who used to run the Jagershof in Bredene which in recent years they have turned into a great food café offering every Trappist beer produced in the world. They are currently transferring this concept to their new build project in Raversijde. The owners are passionate about Trappist beer and hunt high and low for obscure Belgian and world-Trappist beer, so here is the place to try some rare beers hard to find elsewhere. We will pay a visit to the mighty Van Steenberge Brewery in Ertvelde for a tour of the major new construction of this already vast brewery. The new works include a smart new tasting room, Bar Baptist. We will have a taste of their Abbey beer, the most famous being Augustijn.
Our beer warehouse stop on this Tour will be the brilliant Bierhalle Deconinck beer warehouse in Vichte. This is the best beer warehouse/shop in West Flanders with an unmatched selection of quality beers from all over Belgium and some superb world beers too.
Trappist and Abbey beers have had an interesting relationship in Belgium. The sheer quality of Trappist brewed beers in the past led to secular brewers attaching religious names and images to their advertising to capitalize on and borrow some of the Trappist cachet. This led to out-and-out legal battles in the inter-war period and the Trappists got more protective over others using their name. As a result, though secular brewers dropped the name 'trappist' they got cleverer with religious iconography on their labels, including generalized monks, habits, abbey-looking-buildings etc. This started annoying another group of brewers who had permission under license to brew real Abbey beers. The religious beer wars really settled down in 1997 when eight Trappist Monasteries (Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel and Koningshoeven (NL) and Mariawald(G) founded the International Trappist Association to prevent non-Trappist commercial companies from using the Trappist name by ensuring that certain strict criteria were imposed. Only two years later the real Abbey brewers did something similar, for in 1999 a Certiﬁed Belgian Abbey Beer (Erkend Belgisch Abdijbier) logo was introduced by the Union of Belgian Brewers which can be used on the labels of beers which officially have a link with an existing or former abbey and that payment of royalties for charitable purposes go to that abbey.
Trappist monastery breweries are few, and those that can be visited directly by the public are even fewer. On this Tour we will take a selection of Trappist and Abbey beer breweries, Trappist Brewery Taps, Abbey Taps, specialized cafes and other historic locations where you can sample plenty of the brilliant and much copied Trappist and Abbey beers of Belgium. Podge the beer expert will help you sort out your Dubbels from your Tripels and historian Siobhan McGinn will make sure you know your Cistercians from your Benedictines.
This Tour is still being built so keep an eye on this web page for updates.
Please send Podge an email or call him on +44 (0)1245 354677 if you have any questions or would like to join us on this Tour and for details on how to send a deposit of £155 per person. The full balance is payable ﬁve weeks before departure.
If you are travelling alone and want to share a room with another traveller please contact Podge as we are regularly able to pair up travellers in twin rooms to avoid the need for payments of Single Supplements.
Hotel accommodation and breakfasts;
Hotel city taxes;
Luxury coach travel on a 49 seater coach with toilet;
All brewery visits, tours and brewery beer tastings;
Entrance fees to attractions, museums and historical sites;
All items marked with an asterisk on the individual detailed tour itinerary;
Copies of Podge’s City Bar Guides and Maps for the town where we stay or spend some time;
Still and sparkling water on the coach;
Pick up from Ipswich (at bus shelter outside Crown House, Crown Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3HS (opposite NCP Car Park), Colchester (Southway Chapel St South Layby) or Chelmsford (The Woolpack, Mildmay Road). Arrangements can be made for different joining points on the way to Folkestone or even on the other side of the channel.
Travellers are responsible for the costs of all food and drink apart from items marked with an asterisk on the detailed itinerary plus all passport and insurance costs.
All itinerary times are local and approximate.
Personal insurance is not included in the Tour price but is strongly advised, as is carrying the European Health Insurance Card available online, by phone or via the Post Ofﬁce.
If you have any questions or would like to be added to the interested list please send Podge an email or call him on +44 (0)1245 354677.
All Tours are subject to our Terms and Conditions.