Every monastery has its sacred rituals. At Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren (Saint Sixtus Abbey), one of those rituals is selling beer at a drive-through. On designated days, a long line of cars snakes out of the monastery. Each driver slowly pulls up to a door, waits for a monk to come shuffling out with a crate, then helps him load the precious cargo into their car. The contents of these crates are what many deem the best beer in the world.
With complex, full-bodied flavors of toffee, raisins, and hazelnut, that beer—officially named Westvleteren 12—consistently ranks at the top of beer-lovers’ lists. It also happens to be incredibly difficult to acquire. Fittingly, getting your hands on the monastic dark ale requires a pilgrimage to its source: the Westvleteren Brewery at St. Sixtus. Monks have been quietly brewing at the abbey since 1839. Despite the recent attention and increasing demand, they’ve refused to expand production and don’t distribute their beer to stores or bars. Here, prayer—not beer—is the priority.
To sip the abbey’s offerings, which also include a dubbel and a blonde, you’ll need to drive into the West Flanders countryside, past the surrounding hop fields, to the abbey and its adjacent brewery. In addition to the drive-through option, visitors can also stop by In de Vrede, the abbey cafe, to purchase drinks to enjoy on-site (along with food pairings, including charcuterie, beer-infused pâté, and thick-cut bread) as well as six-packs to take home. But if you really love the brews and want to stock up with the full crate, you’ll need to make an appointment for the drive-through. Before it was possible to book online, this required calling the abbey until a monk finally answered the phone.
To prevent businesses from exploiting their in-demand products, the monks limit how much customers can purchase and prohibit their resale. The latter is a rule that’s sometimes ignored: You might see Westvleteren beers for sale at bars or online. The monks are aware this happens, but they don’t pursue any legal action. Buying on-site is not only respectful of the monks’ wishes; it’s far more affordable. The same six-pack that costs 25 Euros (about $28) at the cafe shop can cost upwards of 200 Euros (about $220) on eBay.
Know Before You Go
Unfortunately, you cannot visit the abbey or brewery, as the monks prefer to work and pray in private.