France and Belgium Farmhouse and Trappist beers

Our Travels for Beer take us to the areas surrounding the border between Belgium and France.

The Belgians in the area are brewing the famous Trappist beers of Chimay and Westvleteren, and the high quality beers of St. Bernardus and Rodenbach.

The French brewers in the area are small local brasseries bringing back beer recipes of the past and competing with the world famous French wine. We traveled with a tour group of Bon Beer Voyage, a beer travel company specializing in super inclusive, small group tours for Belgian & Craft Beer enthusiasts.

Our group of eight, rendezvous in the picturesque village of Bruges, Belgium. Known as the “Venice of the North” Bruges has some great beer bars and restaurants that cook with beer.


  Our first dinner is served at Cambrinus, named after the King of Beer.  It is situated in a building built in 1699, and the menu offers over 400 beers.  My dinner was rabbit with prunes served with a dark beer sauce and was paired with Urthel Samaranth dark Saison.  After dinner we meandered down the cobbled streets and over the canals to a café named t’ Brugs Beertje.  Since 1983 “Little Bear” has been a place where locals and tourists meet over a choice of 300 beers by the bottle and five from the tap or “van ‘t vat” in Flemish. I enjoyed a Fonteinen Oud Gueze.  Gueze is a blend of young and old Lambics, which are then bottled after blending, then aged for 2-3 years to produce a dryer, fruitier and sour with no hop character. I found it to be slightly tart and very refreshing. Nina selected the Duvel Triple Hop which she had never tasted before. Three different hops are added each year, for a fuller flavor.




On Day 2 we cross the border into Esquelbecq, France to visit Brasserie Thiriez, “Biere Artisanale des Flandres”.  Since 1996, Daniel Thiriez brews beers he likes to drink and hopes that others will enjoy them also.  In his rustic pub setting we drank the Ambree de Esquelbecq and Etoile du Nord, and we did enjoy them.  The beers scream fresh and delicious.  We must get some for Stuff Yer Face. The Etoile was soft and highlighted by the hops, or houblons, which the French and Belgians are just beginning to make prominent in their beers. 

The Ambree was 5.8% and a beer I could spend hours with in this farm like setting.


Returning to Bruges we were able to spend some time at a beautiful beer shop named 2Be.  It is well stocked and organized, with a beer cellar for the abbey beers, and a canal front pub.  What could be better?  We purchased a Trappist Rochefort Christmas edition in a large format bottle.  The salesperson told us to lay it down to mature and to never drink it.  Well, why would I buy it then? 

I’ll drink it the day before I die!




The schedule for Day 3 includes a trip to Brouwerij Rodenbach in the city of Roeselare, Belgium.  Rodenbach is famous for brewing their Flanders style red brown ales.  Recently they were bought by Palm Brewing which enabled them to modernize and expand.  The original brewhouse dates to1872.  They brew daily, and some of the beer is stored in a “cathedral” of large oak casks for 2 years.  By large, I mean 15 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall…and there are 293 of them! Solid oak.  Rodenbach had a comfortable tasting room where we did some sampling.  The regular beer is 5.2% and a mix of 75% young ale and 25% aged ale and is highlighted by it’s famous sweet/sour taste. The Grand Cru is 6% and a blend of 1/3 new with 2/3 old ale.  It was very smooth, relaxing, almost wine-like, with a pretty brunette color. Also available was the Foeder Bier, a beer drawn from one particular oak aging barrel, the “foeder”.  I couldn’t notice much difference from the Grand Cru blend, however, I would like to spend some time in the “cathedral” and learn! We’ll add these to the Beer Library at Stuff Yer Face.



Lunch today was in Watou, Belgium at ‘t Hommelhof, a fantastic restaurant cooking with local ingredients and beer.  Several years ago we missed this experience on a visit because they were on vacation.  After seated at the table I noticed the owner running across the street to the Van Eecke Brouwerij.  He returned with two bottles in his hands.  We were lucky to be offered a special tasting of Cuvee Hommelhof, brewed for the restaurant.  It was a pale gold color, lively, and 7%, which was perfect with our lunch. I ordered the Plaice Cordon Bleu with wild mushrooms and a butter sauce using a local tripel beer.  To my surprise, plaice is a fish and not chicken.  It was a tasty fish with a sweet flavor like dover-sole.


After a late lunch our bus takes us two miles down the road to Brouwershuis, where we will be sleeping for two nights.  It’s a small B&B located next to the brewery for St. Bernardus beers.  It’s slightly rustic, with ivy covered brick walls, well furnished in a classic country farm setting.  Now get this…the living room area has a fridge well stocked with the St. B beers…on the honor system!  Our small group changed into some comfortable clothes and got down to some serious work of tasting the world-class beers of Pater 6, Prior 8, and the Abt 12.  Of course we discussed politics and religion just to keep it interesting.  A tour of the brewery awaits us in the morning.


Day 4 we awake feeling guilty in the morning and pony up some funds for the honor jug to cover the large amount of empties laying in the living room.  After breakfast we walk to the St. Bernardus brewery for our tour.  Set in the hop growing area of Poperinge, we learned an interesting fact.  St. B contract brewed the world famous Trappist Westvleteren beer for fifty years ending in 1992.  So, they use the original Westvleteren yeast and recipe. There is only one mash tun in the brewery, the original, and it works all day long.  In a cozy tasting room we were blessed with tasting the three main beers, named after positions within an abbey.  The Pater 6 was a dubbel style, chestnut color, with hints of melon and bananas at 6%.  The Prior 8 also a dubbel style was darker in color, almost ruby, malty, fruity and more complex at 8%.  The Abt 12 is a Quad style, tan head, rich deep flavors both bitter and sweet at 10%.  The Christmas Ale is a yearly favorite which can be saved for years and we will get it for Stuff Yer Face.



Next stop is just a few miles down the road at the Trappist Westvleteren, or St. Sixtus Abbey.  Usually ranked the best beer in the world, their beers are only available at the Abbey for pick up or retail at the attached In de Vrede Café. For a laugh, go to the website for the abbey and read the long list of detailed rules to purchase the beer and take it home!  The bottles have no labels, just a marking on the bottle cap.  At the Café I tasted the 12, a quad style, and the 8, a dubbel style.  Both are delicious with long lasting flavors.  The 12 has hints of caramel and chocolate.  The café has a menu with small eats, and a small museum to visit.  The view through the café windows is pastoral and enhances the taste of the beers.  We end our visit at the café gift shop, of course.

We return to the Brouwershuis and our private tasting room that evening for a blind tasting between the St. B 12 and the Westie 12. After much deliberation, I think I remember, that the two beers were so close in flavor, with one finally getting the best of ranking…Westvleteren 12.  It should be on your bucket list.


Day 5 began with party hats and noise makers at breakfast to celebrate Nina’s birthday.  We left St. B and enjoyed a scenic drive to Lille, France with a tour stop at Warmbrechies Genever along the way.  Our lunch was scheduled at Monk’s Cafe where we were greeted with a magnum of Moinette, a delicious and refreshing golden beer! After dinner we went to La Capsule, a popular pub with a fantastic international beer list.  Frank, the owner of Monk’s and La Capsule joined us for “one” beer…which was followed by a “tasting” of another, then, a special French, once-a-year bottle on the eve of the release, XI.I.  His creative generosity brought out a third, a fourth, a fifth…and we waived the white flag in surrender.  He sent Nina home with large Belgian Troubadour Stout as a birthday gift. 

French, Belgian, Norwegian, and American beers; we loved the rainbow of flavors!



Day 6 we drive to France and visit Brasserie St. Germain, also known as Page 24.  The brewery is a revival of a brewery location from earlier times.  Owner Stephane jokes that their beer recipes are listed on page 24…  page 24 of a book known only to him.  Their beers are brewed using artisanal methods, are non-pasteurised and undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle.  After an in depth tour, we moved to a pub area that was very warm and drink enticing.  The room was decorated with historical items from the previous brewer.  An exciting beer we tasted was their Rhubarb, a pale golden ale with the fruitiness from the rhubarb juice that was slightly tangy.  The Hildegard is an award winning pale ale brewed using the local hops and barley. The Hildegard Reserve uses roasted malts that bring on toasty flavors.  Both are very refreshing. We will add these beers to the Stuff Yer Face beer list.      



For lunch we visit the scenic Au Baron Café, located streamside in Gussignies, France.  The restaurant and the brewery Brasserie Bailleux are family owned with three generations of brewers.  The exciting feature within the restaurant is the grill.  The father took his dad’s old copper mash tun, sliced it in half, and made it a wood burning grill.  A beautiful site!  Our grill meats served for lunch were perfectly cooked and delicious.  During lunch we drank Cuvee des Jonquilles, or daffodils, which was a biere de garde style, non pasteurized and non filtered.  It was delicious and refreshing at 7%.  We will add this beer to the Beer Library.



Day 7 brings us to Trappist Chimay in Belgium, which is celebrating 150 years of brewing.  The Abbey has limited public areas, such as the quiet chapel.  Our private tour gave us access to the brewing process and scientists who create and monitor the quality of world-famous Chimay! At Stuff Yer Face we have available a limited supply of a special brew commemorating the occasion.  Typically they brew their red, white, and blue labels.  The red label, or Premier, was their first beer, and is dark, fruity and 7%.  The white label is gold in color, spicey and slightly hoppy.  The blue label, or Grand Reserve, was the original Christmas version, is 9% and very complex in flavors.  The trio will please anyone’s palate. We were blessed with a detailed tour of the brewery, which according to Trappist rules is located behind the walls of Notre Dame de Scourmount Abbey.  At the end of the tour we were offered to taste a rare 1996 Premier, which was covered with dust.  The beer inside had mellowed in flavors and the carbonation had been tamed. We learned it is best to drink the Premier and the Cinq Cents within 6 months. The Grand Reserve is good now and, when stored properly, continues to be excellent for up to 20 years!

Lunch was at Auberge de Poteaupre, a café close by. Chimay cheeses were available and beer cuisine.  I selected a local favorite, which I can only describe as a hamburger made with blood sausage meat.  It had rich, bold flavors, and delicious with the Chimay blue.


We also did a pairing with 5 Chimay cheeses and 3 beers. It’s amazing how well beer and cheese pair. 

A fantastic lunch that was pleasantly followed with a nap on the bus.

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