Following the Trappist Beer Trail
It might surprise you to learn you can purchase a “beer trail” map in Belgium, reminiscent of my beloved wine country maps. Depending on where you’re staying and how much time you have, you could conceivably plan an entire beer-themed road trip!
There are now 11 monasteries producing certified Trappist beers, and six of these are in Belgium. Rochefort is the oldest of the Trappist monasteries, dating back to the 13th century. However, the brewery wasn’t founded until 1595.
Rochefort is generally regarded as one of the least accessible Trappist monasteries in Belgium. There is no on-site café or gift shop and almost no view onto the grounds themselves.
A Chance to See for Ourselves
Last fall, however, we learned of a rare opportunity wherein Rochefort was opening its gates! Granted, we’d never see actual brewery operations, but it was worth a three-hour drive from the Netherlands to get even the tiniest glimpse inside one of the world’s most secretive beer-producing locations.
Thanks to a monastery fundraiser, we walked inside Notre Dame de Saint-Remy and saw a museum exhibit detailing Rochefort’s history. Even better was the opportunity to buy beer directly on-site, including cool gift sets I’ve never seen in stores.
Enjoying the Tastes of Rochefort
Because Rochefort doesn’t have an on-site café, we ventured off to town in search of a restaurant. We stumbled upon La Gourmandise, an adorable outdoor café with quite a lively crowd enjoying the afternoon sun. The menu was massive, including a separate section devoted solely to dishes made with Rochefort beer.
I started with the beer sampler, which came with local sausages and cheese, also made with Rochefort. From there, we moved on to a massive sampler platter that included more local sausages, cheese, pates, and spreads. If you really want the full Belgian beer experience, try food that’s made with the beer. It’s my favorite way to explore new culinary possibilities with beer.
Rochefort produces three different beers. Most people claim the 10 is the best, but my personal preference is the 6.
- 6 or Red Cap: The oldest of the three, the 6 was brewed regularly, even through two world wars. The recipe has changed over time, with the current version introduced in 1953.
- 8 or Green Cap: Originally, this was only brewed for New Year’s Eve, but its popularity led the monks to brew this year round.
- 10 or Blue Cap: Some call it a meal, and for good reason. Monks used to have a strict diet that lacked fish, meat, and cheese, so the Rochefort 10 actually supplemented their diet.
If you’re short on time or unable to venture far outside the main cities, there are still ways to enjoy both Rochefort and other local Belgian beers. Belgium continually hosts various beer festivals, while bars such as Delirium offer a staggering 2,000+ beers. No matter how you choose to partake in Belgium’s beer culture, you’re bound to have both an unforgettable and educational experience.
About this Pint Professor
Erin de Santiago is a freelance writer, blogger, and Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)who splits her time between Belize and the Netherlands. She’s the co-founder of Our Tasty Travels, and has traveled to over 60 countries, seeking out the best in food, wine, and beer.
Amsterdam isn’t particularly known for its locally produced beer—and, no, I’m not talking about Heineken or Amstel—but this trip convinced me it should be. Within the city is a small but strong staple of craft brewers and excellent beer bars and stores, where easy access is offered to a host of Dutch brewers just beyond Amsterdam’s borders. Unlike the city’s famous coffee shops, where it’s hard not to feel like a tourist doing a touristy thing, the microbreweries and beer bars all boast a gentle, low-key vibe for regulars, families, and tourists alike.
The Eagle’s Nest
I was visiting the Dutch capital with my husband and a handful of good friends. While our days were varied, focused on the exploration of different neighborhoods—museums, markets, bike rides, lots of Dutch food as part of our Eat Your World research—in the early evening we always wound up at the Arendsnest on our way back to the apartment we’d rented in the Jordaan district. It was convenient and, sure, we were thirsty, but more important was the menu of 100-plus all-Dutch craft beers, most of them completely new to us. The atmosphere was warm and friendly and filled with people who cared about what they drank. First we’d marvel at the gorgeous changing streetscape outside, and then we’d scurry, clutching scarves against the autumn breeze, into the Arendsnest (which means Eagle’s Nest, by the way). It was our spot to sit, rest, and plan the evening ahead over the occasional cheese and sausage plate and delicious regional brews poured into elegant long-stemmed goblets.
La Trappe Quadrupel…and More
A favorite beer quickly emerged among our group—the full-bodied, boozy Quadrupel (10% ABV) from La Trappe, the only Trappist brewery in the Netherlands—but we sampled freely from other Dutch breweries. This included the esteemed Jopen (which aims to restore historic Dutch styles of beer), out of nearby Haarlem; cult favorite Brouwerij De Molen; and many local Amsterdam breweries that we’d already visited in person, such as the excellent Brouwerij ’t IJ,situated under an old windmill on the eastern outskirts of town;and Brouwerij de Prael, which has a penchant for naming its beers after Dutch folk singers. I preferred to scour the day’s 30 or so on-tap offerings scrawled on the blackboard rather than flip through the heavy bottle menu. The barman was always happy to give a taste or two before I settled on a glass.
Over our week’s visit, Arendsnest became “our place,” and certainly we weren’t the only ones. But that didn’t matter. All we knew was we walked out of there each night feeling fully content and more than a little tipsy, filled with love and friendship and damn good beer, into the wide-open arms of stunning Amsterdam, set aglow.
About this Pint Professor
Laura Siciliano-Rosen is the co-founder and editorial director of Eat Your World, an original online guide to regional foods and drinks in 130-plus destinations around the globe.
Beer and Bites
My first stop is Independence Beer Garden, located on Independence Mall West in Old City near all the historical attractions. It’s the perfect place to stop after a tour of the Betsy Ross House, National Constitution Center, and the Liberty Bell. Everything is within walking distance, and the shaded garden makes for a nice, relaxing way to enjoy a beer and some delicious bites away from the summer heat. I’m tempted to challenge the people next to me playing bocce ball to a tournament, but I wouldn’t want a tough competition to prevent anyone from returning to Philly again, so I head to the bar to order.
There is a fantastic selection of craft brews, which is impressive for a pop-up garden. I start with a Victory Summer Love because ‘tis the season. The food menu is rather extensive for a beer garden. I grab some popcorn to whet the palate while I make my decision between a cucumber salad and mahi-mahi taco or the roasted Lancaster whole chicken “bucket special.” Because I have two more stops on the tour, I figure I should save some room, so I stick with the lighter fare, which perfectly complements my crisp and refreshing seasonal brew.
Ale in the Afternoon
A few minutes of digesting and soaking up the scenery later, and I’m off to Spruce Street Harbor Park for some waterfront merriment. Arriving at the park makes me feel like a kid at a carnival. Lights and hammocks are strung from trees, shipping containers have been transformed into food and drink stops and game areas. There is shuffle board, ping-pong, and waterfront seating with sand to dip your toes in at the urban beach, making this a unique and entertaining gem to spend time in while discovering Philadelphia. At dusk, I take a seat in the netting suspended above the water and lean back against the pillows, watching the boats in the water and sipping a classic Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale. I can’t really think of a better way to spend a sunset in this city.
Suds at Sundown
At sundown I’m ready for my final stop. I hitch a cab to Philly’s Fishtown area to check out Stephen Starr’s German beer garden hot spot, Frankford Hall. Because it’s nice out, I grab a seat outside on the traditional “biergarten” benches, although the air conditioned seating inside is quite tempting as well. A messy pile of Jenga tiles sit atop my table, waiting for me to start stacking. But first -- beer. Much like the beer gardens in Munich, a short walk to the bar and you’ve got yourself a stein filled with gold. The order wouldn’t be complete without a pretzel bigger than my head, so I add one and take a seat at the communal bench. A few “prosts,” some new friends and some new Jenga enemies later, and I feel like I could sit in the open air here forever. It’s a fine way to end a day and night of tourism and beer garden hopping and one of the best ways to get to know the booming beer culture of the city of brotherly love (and sisterly affection).
About this Pint Professor
Laurie Satran is the founder, writer and photographer of The Art of Breaking Bread blog, a social media strategist, a freelance travel photographer, an epicurean, and a contributing blogger and photographer to The Huffington Post and the IKEA Design Blog.