When it comes to the Belgian Trappist beers, Rochefort has my favorite (Rochefort 10), Westvleteren has the smallest production but the most prestigious (Westvleteren 12), Chimay has the largest number of varieties and is the biggest seller, Orval has the most distinctive tasting, and Achel, just about as small as Westvleteren, is content having arguably the nicest outdoor cafe. Then there is Westmalle.
Westmalle is Belgium’s second largest producer of Trappist beer (as of 2018 figures). However, that is just about the only major achievement at which Westmalle is second. Out of all of the Trappist breweries, Westmalle is the oldest, brewing its first beer in August 1836. It’s two main beers are each iconic in their own way. The Dubbel is considered to be the very first Belgian brown beer and the Tripel is considered to be the first beer to ever use the term Tripel coming from the concept of triple the ingredients. A Tripel is now synonymous with any Belgian golden ale with a higher alcohol content.
Simply put, Westmalle is beer history in two bottles. And if you want to introduce a newcomer to the world of Trappist beers, Westmalle is the place to start. Westmalle beers are sipping beers. I find them both very dense in taste and they can easily wear out the taste buds too quickly, especially if you are planning on a night of indulging in 3 or more beers. They are also beers that are best paired with cheese to keep the palate balanced while having some conversation to help keep the right drinking pace.
Westmalle also is probably the easiest of all of the Belgian Trappist monasteries to actually visit, at least for a tourist. It is more or less a 30 minute drive from the city of Antwerpen. All of the others are much farther away from any metropolitan area. By visit of course I am referring to walking around the grounds outside the monastery, not actually entering the monastery itself. In fact, the abbey is surrounded by a region rich in forests and sweeping farmlands, making it a perfect location for a Beer & Hike.
Well, normally perfect. The COVID-19 crisis means the adjacent Cafe Trappisten isn’t currently open, but when it is, it is as equal to drinking a Westmalle in Westmalle as you can get.
The hike begins and ends in the parking lot of the Cafe Trappisten. I created this route in a clockwise direction. About 3/5ths of the route is thru forest and the remainder thru open farmland. Aside from one short stretch parallel to a busy road, the entire hike is a tranquil gem and in late May, the purple hydrangea are at the end of their bloom cycle but still thriving. One notable landmark along the way is the Abdij OLV van Nazareth which is the home to Trappist nuns.
- Starting Point: Cafe Trappisten
- Ending Point: Round-trip
- Distance: 19.6 km
- My Moving Time: 4 hrs 3 mins
- Eating Place: Cafe Trappisten (post-COVID hopefully)
- Komoot Link: Westmalle Loop
Walking this hike, I couldn’t help feel the lure of the monk life. In a world that is currently in turmoil over the virus and where my home country is once again in disarray due to racial violence, there is something calming and protective about forests, where you have nothing but the sound of birds, the smell of pine needles, and the blanket of fresh air. This is not to avoid reality, but to embrace something simpler, yet bigger than all. Isn’t that what the monks behind those red brick walls are trying to do in their own way? Ok, they are also brewing delicious beer. But what I am talking about is respecting life, losing one’s self-importance in the beauty of nature, and recharging one’s soul thru the invisible vibes emanating from the life humming in every leaf, blade of grass, or flower.