Whilst many visitors head to Ypres, Poperinge and the nearby battlefields to see the WW1 sites the Belgian region of Westhoek is also a beer drinker’s paradise well placed for the sampling of the huge variety of local brews. The best known are the Trappist beers traditionally brewed by the Abbeys. Doug Goodman offers a few hints.
Many towns in Westhoek – the nearest bit of Belgium to the Channel port of Calais– brew their own beer. Each has its own distinctive taste and special glasses to match. Names can sometimes be difficult to pronounce – Snoekbier from Alveringem, Veurne offers Slapersbier, Sporkinbier and Boeteling; Koekelare brews Couckelaerschen Doedel and so on.
Locals like their beer in 25cl glasses
Locals like their beer in 25cl glasses which ensures that the beer remains cool and fresher. But if you do prefer a half litre remember that Belgian beer is much stronger than traditional UK beers – often up to 11%.
For something really special try Trappist from Westvleteren – if you can find it. Claimed to be the best beer in the world, its supply is very limited as the monks produce only 5000 hectolitres a year.
Consequently, the brew is always in short supply and can only be ordered on the Abbey’s beer hot line. If you do make contact, you order whatever’s available and collect it by appointment at the Abbey’s door.
The St Bernadus Brewery in Watou produces a strong malty beer at 10%. Recognise it from the image of a jolly monk on the label.
In Poperinge itself – famous for TOC H, the WW1 rest centre for troops – Hommelbier is brewed.
It’s 7.5% proof and has a delightfully refreshing taste and sparkling colour. The brewery can be visited by appointment.
Beers to look out for
Look out for a Plukker, it’s a new beer using Poperinge hops. The blond beer, called Keikop, has high fermentation and uses three varieties of hops. Westmalle Trappist is a light, sparkling lager with a fresh bitter taste. Passendale at 5.5% is a darker and slightly sweeter beer and can be found in and around Ypres. Achouffee has a malty bite while Chimay at 9% is a chewy strong beer. The strongest beer I’ve found was Kasteel Tripel from Ingelmunster at 11%. And don’t forget the dependable, familiar beer easily found in the UK is Leffe Blond or Bruin at 7%.
You’ll find beer festivals in many towns, and in Poperinge, which has its own hop museum, the annual festival takes place near the end of October.
Belgians are passionate about their beer; and rightly so, it shows in the quality and variety. Cheers!