Trappist Westvleteren 12
by Eli Hodapp
This morning I was feeling particularly hungry so I ordered what was labeled on the menu as the “American Breakfast,” under the assumption that everyone else huge or otherwise excessive has the suffix “USA.” Sadly, this was just a normal American breakfast of two eggs, some bacon, and toast, but it still totally hit the spot, especially when served with some fresh mint tea. That’s a thing over here. and I really need to figure out where I can get massive quantities of fresh mint sprigs back home to make lots and lots of tea with it.
Following breakfast, I had two main priorities today: Buying souvenirs for my family and picking up the real deal official non-replica local soccer jersey which also has become a bit of a tradition when traveling. Brian and I headed to what amounts to the shopping district in town with the first stop being some sort of chocolate shop that allegedly also sold soccer jerseys. They only had the fake tourist ones, so we got directions from the guy (Who was basically Andre the Giant’s twin, it was incredible) and picked up a few Euros worth of chocolate for his troubles.
This shopping area was amazing, and filled with awesomely stereotypical euro-trash clothes. Oddly enough, so many places sold horrible Engrish on all sorts of articles of clothing which really makes no sense as there’s just no excuse for it, the Dutch speak fantastic English. The American-style sports stuff was the worst, like a t-shirt for the “First Sandwich Pick Fly Ball” team. I would’ve taken a photo but the security was being a little oppressive, constantly hovering nearby.
I found the tourist souvenir shop of my dreams, and have long since learned how to spot the ones where you’ll find the cheapest prices. See, they all basically sell the exact same junk, and you pay a massive premium for location and curation. This particular place was right off an alley, and they didn’t even bother taking their t-shirts out of the bags they come in from whatever South East Asian sweatshop conveyor belt they come off of. So, I was pleasantly surprised by how little everything cost compared to the same thing on the main drag of Amsterdam which I only didn’t buy previously because I didn’t feel like carrying it around all day.
With that checked off my to do list, we switched gears to soccer jersey mode. At the end of the street, there was an official Nike store, which we eventually got to but not before needing to ask several increasingly confused people where to go. I basically broke the dude’s brain at Foot Locker when I asked where to get a soccer jersey. The reaction I got was in line with how a robot would operate in an old cartoon where springs just explode from its head. I’m not good at correcting myself in saying “Football.”
We eventually made it to the basement of the Nike store where they had all the official soccer stuff for the main Dutch football team. I ended up getting the home orange jersey with Robin Van Persie’s name and number on it. That only set me back a disgustingly expensive 200€, but, whatever. The actual real jerseys the players wear are always super cool, and this one has all kinds of crazy detailing that the significantly cheaper replica jerseys lack, so, I’m totally satisfied.
It was going to take them around 20 minutes to do the lettering on my jersey, so Brian suggested we wander to a nearby bar for a “quick” beer. It’s named Gollem, and opened in the early 70’s as the first real beer bar in Amsterdam. They had 200 beers there, and glasses for most if not all of them, which is always super impressive to see. I started off with a Kwak which I’m fairly sure I’ve had before in the States as I specifically remember the unique glass which requires a holder as it was originally designed for use with the kind of “cup holder” you’d have in a horse drawn carriage.
We were their first customers of the day, and the bartender was awesome. He was essentially Yoda, but replace knowledge of The Force with knowledge of all things beer. This eventually leads Brian to mention how he’s always been looking for this ultra-rare beer called Trappist Westvleteren 12. The story behind it is that it’s made by these monks who follow a religious order that allows them to create and sell a product to fund their abbey. There’s nine different trappistes in the world, and this bar had all of them.
Trappist Westvleteren 12 is the rarest of all these beers because how hardcore the monks are about distributing it. The only “official” way you can get it is by driving to the abbey itself in Belgium at which point you can call them, and a monk will come out to sell you one case per car. Only 60,000 cases are made a year, which as far as beer production is concerned, is basically nothing. Initially the bartender said they didn’t have any, but one of the bar backs seemed to overhear us and managed to pull two incredibly dusty bottles out of the basement for us. 15€ a piece and aged close to five years.
This beer has a score of a perfect 100 on Beer Advocate, and after trying it, I see why it’s so special. I’m not big into the whole beer criticism thing, so I can’t really accurately describe the quality of the head and aftertaste, but it was just stupid complex, with all of these different flavors and smells hitting you at different times like some kind of crazy Willy Wonka concoction. We’ve had so much good beer here.
After spending way too much money on beer (and t-shirts, which I would’ve bought as well if they had a small) we headed off to pick up my jersey before setting our destination as the restaurant run by the same owners of this bar. The bartender was telling us about it, and apparently it’s all Belgian food with everything cooked in or incorporating beer in one way or another. A “short” walk, and we were there.
It seems like in Europe you can tell how legit a place is by how many errant cats there are roaming around. This restaurant had three, including the above cat that just sat there like a statue on one of the highest shelves in the bar making sure everything is in order. The two other cats, proudly marched around, stopping at tables to politely wait for scraps of food.
As an appetizer we got a assortment of croquettes which were just OK in my eyes, and some fresh baked bread with four different sauces- Two cream based, one olive based, and another that was some sort of cheesy beef tallow mixture which was just out of this world. By the time our food arrived we were on beer number three, continuing to drink crazy exotic beers and whatever the bartender recommended.
For dinner, Brian got a massive pot full of mussels which were simmered in beer and I got the rib roast. It’s what the bartender at the previous bar recommended, and it seems silly to not follow a recommendation like that. I wasn’t disappointed, although this amount of food and beer created a DEFCON 5 level nap emergency.
On the way back to the hotel I finally got to see what the Dutch call “reclaiming” their land from the sea. Narrowing the canals to create more land both as the canals apparently become less relevant and as property value continues to rise is a big thing here, and it was neat seeing the whole setup. Although, being Sunday, no work was actively being done.
It quickly got dark, and our walk back to the hotel put us straight through the red light district which, again, being Sunday, was totally dead. We found another bar on the way which we stopped at for some reason, to get a Jupiler, which is the local super-low-end beer. It’s not good, and if nothing else, served as fantastic contrast for the great beers I spent the day drinking.
With everything closing up (aside from “coffee” shops, unsurprisingly) there wasn’t much left to do but go back to the hotel sort of early. Brian is flying out tomorrow, so we’re getting breakfast mega-early before I continue my Amsterdam adventures solo over the next two and a half days. This has been such a great trip so far.