Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Sun June 12 2016

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  • Worldwide Scott | June 12, 2016 9:00 PM ET

    A Quest to Find the World’s Best Beer in Belgium

    A Quest to Find the World’s Best Beer in Belgium

    Photos by Worldwide Scott

    By all accounts, the monks at the Sint Sixtus Abbey in Vleteren, Belgium produce some of the most heavenly brews on earth. And one of their beers, Westvleteren 12, is regarded by many as the world’s finest. In fact, if you punch in “world’s best beer” on everybody's favorite search engine, these Trappist boys are the first non-listicle result that pops up.

    To say the process of acquiring Westvleteren 12 is complicated is to understate the murkiness of the proceedings. The monks aren’t in it for the money, so they don’t brew a ton of beer, and what they do brew, they don’t distribute to bars or stores.

    READ MORE: Which US Airline Offers the Best Beer Menu?

    No, they choose to only sell crates directly to people at their abbey, with each person only allowed to purchase once every 60 days. This, inevitably, leads to a thriving black market in the beer, with bottles being sold with a wink-and-a-nod all over the world at jacked up prices; and a ton of people out there making some serious cash posing as innocent locals every two months. But I digress.

    It’s supposed to work like this: you call them ahead, they take down your details (including your license plate), and then you show up at an agreed-upon time and pick up your suds.

    Yeah, that didn’t work out so well for me.

    Ever since I found out I would be in their neck of the woods, I started calling. For months. It was always busy. I could never get through. It was frustrating, I mean, what were these monks busy doing, praying?

    So, I figured I would just show up and see what happens.

    After swerving through several roundabouts in nearby Poperinge (a place so renowned for its beer hops, there’s a giant statue of one), playing a game of “Wait, Is This A One Way Street?” In the maze-like town center, and badgering sidewalk-strolling Belgians for directions, we arrived at the legendary Sint Sixtus Abbey.

    The cars ahead of us were full of genteel folks (likely black market beer barons in disguise), exchanging pleasantries with the chipper man who was dishing out the beer. Everyone seemed so nice and friendly, that my confidence swelled. “This is going to be easy,” I thought. 

    Our turn came, I pulled ahead, and the beer man grabbed his clipboard and, gulp, started scrutinizing our car and license plate like he was working a border crossing. I rolled down the window, and in my best Flemish (which is English, by the way) pleaded, “we don’t have a reservation, sir, but we came all the way from England, and I called for months, and I promise I’m a really good person”. Or something like that.

    Being an American used to warm and cuddly customer service, I expected to hear him say:

    “Well, you’re technically supposed to have a reservation, but since you came all this way and you seem nice, so go ahead and take some beer, and you know what, don’t even worry about paying for it.”

    Sadly, that didn’t happen. The monk beer man ended the dream right then and there on the spot. I was crushed. We had come all this way, we had come so close to sipping the nectar of the gods only to be rejected and leave parched, with an empty trunk.

    READ MORE: Cuba Suffering Beer Shortage Thanks to American Tourists

    But then he told us we could buy the beer over at their cafe, In de Vrede, which we subsequently found out is the only place in the world where it is sold in a retail setting. We drove over, bought a twelve pack of Westvleteren 12, and headed for home with smiles on our faces.

    Things officially became happily ever after though when we made it back home and I poured the first bottle. The mahogany-brown Westvleteren 12 flowed from its vessel like holy water, overflowing with toasty notes that tickled the nose and a creamy off-white head that pleased the eyes. As I finally sipped the sweet and smoky strong Belgian beer, I immediately knew what all the hype was about, and I was already starting to think about a return trip.

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Worldwide Scott The Adventures of Worldwide Scott

Worldwide Scott Born in the U.S.A like Springsteen but trying to see the world like Pitbull, Worldwide Scott is the voice behind the hard-hitting travel site of the same name. Employing a groundbreaking strategy of visiting destinations, coming home, and then writing things about them on the internet, Worldwide Scott only tackles the tough questions that other writers wouldn't dare touch: Is travelling fun? Are there pretty places in the world? Do people in other countries wear clothes? Does Europe really exist? And if so, what's the beer like there? Stick around, he's going places.
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