When the plan for our trip to Belgium started to come together, one of the most exciting pieces of information I discovered was a cute little Bed & Breakfast in the charming countryside. It just so happened that this B&B was owned, operated and conveniently located right next to St. Bernardus Brewing. So yes, staying there for two nights was a no-brainer.
St. Bernardus has a fascinating history in its rise to being a heralded name in the Belgium Beer community. For instance, did you know that for nearly 50 years, these were the guys that actually brewed the legendary Westvleteren XII? Back in 1934 St. Bernardus wasn’t a brewery, it wasn’t even a monastery any longer. The Monks had headed back to France and sold their cheese making operation to Evarist Deconinck. Shorty after World War II, the monks of nearby Sint Sixtus (the monks who originated Westvleteren XII) decided they no longer wanted to produce and sell beers outside of what is consumed for the monks. Deconinck stepped in and essentially became a contract brewer for Sint Sixtus while also selling off the cheese business to focus exclusively on beer. The partnership ended in 1992 when the International Trappist Association declared that Sint Sixtus would no longer be able to be called an authentic trappist beer brewer unless all production was moved back within the walls of the abbey. Sint Sixtus went back to making their beers in the monastery but that left the brewers at St. Bernardus in a bit of a pickle. They decided that they would strike out on their own and the monks of Sint Sixtus, being the amicable guys that they are, let the brewers at St. Bernardus keep the original recipes. The only thing that would change is the strain of yeast used in the beers.
St. Bernardus is located just outside the small town of Watou, Belgium, about sixty minutes south of Bruges. It’s lush, beautiful countryside with hops farms in many of the surrounding fields. We arrived at the brewery towards the end of the day just after they had stopped brewing, but the smell of hot grains was all around and provided some nice ambiance to our tour of the facilities. I found the tour conducted by the brewery to be very informative and our tour guide to be quite knowledgeable. The tasting area for the tours is also very nice and had a lovely Bavarian style to it. There are a lot of similarities when visiting most breweries, and that is also true when visiting one overseas, however there are some subtle differences that I truly enjoyed being able to talk about with our guide. I would consider it a must do if in the region and a requirement if you are staying at the Bed & Breakfast.
The Beers in their impressive lineup include
Watou Tripel, 7.0%ABV, Grottebier 6.5%ABV, Christmas Ale, this seasonal beer is 10%ABV and is perfectly suitable for aging, Wit, a 5.5%ABV that is easily one of the best whites I’ve ever had, St. Bernardus Tripel 8.0%ABV more of a floral aroma in this tripel and much easier to find here in the U.S. The next three I’m going to mention are the three beers based on the original recipes of the monks of Sint Sixtus, these are the beers that made St. Bernardus what they are and they are all insanely tasty and excellent representations of their respective styles.
- Bernardus Pater 6, 6.7%ABV – A traditional abbey dubbel with dark fruit flavors and a wonderful nose to it. A nice introduction to the style
- Bernardus Prior 8, 8%ABV – A bigger version of an abbey dubbel, the color is a little richer and the flavors a little bigger with a smoothness that makes this beer go down far too easily.
- Bernardus Abt 12, 10%ABV – This is the big one. If you have heard people rave about Westvleteren XII, this is just as good if not slightly better. This quad ale is rich with color, pervasive dark fruit flavors and a super creamy head on top. This is a prime example of the traditional quadruple ale done correctly and to perfection.
Staying at the Bed & Breakfast, known as the Brouwershuis, was a delight. The house itself is a large estate with ample sized rooms and a great deal of comfort to offer travelers from around the world. The Brouwershuis is designed so that multiple guests can easily be accommodated and given as much attention as they require for their stay. Jackie is the main caretaker of the house and she is simply a marvelous person to spend time with. She also does the cooking for your breakfasts and she certainly knows her way around a kitchen with skill. Our breakfasts were the perfect way to start each day while we were there. Jackie was also more than happy to make two excellent suggestions for local restaurants for our dinners, which turned out to be two of the best meals we had in all of Europe (Een Huis Tussen Dag en Morgan & my favorite: ‘t Sparhof). There is also a tennis court on the land and you are able to borrow bikes to go for rides around the countryside or to trek over to the legendary Sint Sixtus and try your hand at acquiring their beers from their café, In De Vrede, although if you plan on bringing some beers back with you I would suggest taking your car instead.
Since our stay at the Brouwershuis was in the middle of the week in late January we had the entire house to ourselves at night, which made for a very relaxing time, but when we go back it will be at a busier time of year because I’d love to be able to sit in the spacious living room to engage and drink beers with the wide variety of beer lovers that make their way to St. Bernardus on their beer adventures. This brings me to my favorite part – the Brouwershuis beer fridge…actually fridges. You have unfettered access to fully stocked refrigerators with wall to wall St. Bernardus beers! It’s true what Belinda Carlisle says, heaven is a place on earth… it’s Watou, Belgium.
This does it for recapping my trip to Europe, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and perhaps inspired a few ideas for your own beer adventure.