A Beer Pilgrimage through Europe – 29/9/16


Where would you start a beer pilgrimage in Europe?

I began my journey in the unlikely city of Amsterdam, perhaps not bestknown for beer, despite being the spiritual home of Heineken. In this beautiful city, overwhelmed by bicycles and politeness, my other half found amongst the picturesque canals and sea of lagers, a small brewery under a windmill. Brouwerij ‘t Ij, or The Ij Brewery, named for Amsterdam’s main body of water, was established in 1985, by former musician Kaspar Peterson in response to same same of the Macro breweries. The brewpub operates out of a former public baths, producing only ales out of its 2000 litre brewhouse. The cosy hipster bar, annexes a lovely beer garden with long tables serving a selection of sausage and cheese, a cheddar from St Bernardus and soft cheese produced from sheep fed on the brewery’s spent grain.



For just 5 Euro, you can get a brewery tour in English or Dutch, and a beer of your choice, clearly very Belgian inspired, the selection was of 3 Abbey styles, a wit bier and even an American IPA with of course, Mosaic hops. Personally I’m more partial to the Belgian styles, so after starting with a paddle and some simple foods the girlfriend and I opted for a Belgian Strong Dark before our tour. Now a good beer doesn’t have to brewed with at least 2 specialty malts and 3 exotic hops, a well made lager has nothing to hide behind and there’s always something to be learned from them. Working under Ken, I have come to believe it’s important to appreciate all beer, simple or complex, so I made sure to drink my fill of lighter styles whilst in the Netherlands.


Next to Belgium, the place I was most immediately excited to visit, and more specifically, Westvleteren, one of 6 Trappist breweries in the country and widely regarded as “the” beer pilgrimage, to make to taste the awe inspiring Westvleteren 12. Trappist breweries are essentially NFP, brewed by monks and may only make enough beer for themselves and money to sustain their community, a concept I first learned of from the intimate history lesson that was last years Trappist Beer Club at NBC. Unfortunately monks rarely open the Abbey doors to the public, but if you’re willing, I recommend doing as we did. Stay in the partially medieval town of Ghent, take a bike on the hour long train ride to remote Poperinge for a romantic ride through the endless fields of the Belgian countryside, to Cafe In De Vrede.

andrew4Adjacent to the Westvleteren Abbey, here you can try one of their brews – Blonde, 8 or 12 in surrounds to rival the beer. From the most pleasant beer garden I’ve been to, overlooking green pastures, in the sunshine with an accompaniment of pate, cheese and bread we enjoyed all three. The Blonde, with soft pale malt flavour, ferment character apparent through bold esters and some acetone, finished medium dry with a pleasant yeasty note. In the 8, a Dubbel, I found rich aromas of varnish, dry roast with caramel undertones ahead a great complexity of malt layering on the palate. So the Westvleteren 12 – is it really all that? That’s a decision I would encourage you to make for yourself, and sure, bottles can have been known to show up in Australia for 50 bucks a pop if you’re lucky, but I guarantee that if you go the distance, you won’t regret it. Additionally, while in the area, drop into St Bernardus.

Between 1946 and 1992 St Bernardus brewed under licence for Westvleteren and these days still has the right to brew the same recipes under a different name, seasoning with the hops they grow themselves. If you book ahead you can jump on the back of 1.5 hour look around the joint including a tasting and a gift pack of four beers and a glass, at 12.50 Euro, you can’t afford not to.

andrew3As seems the way in this part of Europe, the legend who gave us the tour switched between English and Dutch like it was nothing, which makes you feel pretty lazy for not speaking at least 2 languages. The facilities here produce 10,000 litres of beer a day, keg, bottle and distribute all over the globe, and in very progressive fashion also adopted by Japanese breweries, bottles are returned to brewery to be filled again. The tasting comprised of two beers, the Triple and the Abt 12, a quadruple much like it’s Westvleteren counterpart, although comparatively I found the St Bernardus to be a little sweet. Despite not being in huge bracket for hop character, through malt, fermentation attributes, candy sugar and whatever else they throw in, these Abbey and Trappist ales could not want for more profoundness.




Next time on the adventures of Beer Boy – Brussels, Berlin and beyond. Links for all discussed below, thanks for reading. Andrew Dean. 

Brouwerij’ t Ij   


St Bernardus