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Belgian beers are revered the world over, which is fitting given that some of the men who brew them are equally reverential in their own way. For those on a tour of Belgium, Trappist beers - those beverages brewed by Trappist monks - and the monasteries that produce them are well worth both a sip and a trip.
A note on styles
Before planning a trip to the many breweries of Belgium, beer enthusiasts should first understand the difference between the types of beer available and the kinds of people who brew them. Trappist ales are the only ones officially brewed by monks and, according to David Jensen of the blog Menuism, come with a label that guarantees their authenticity. Only six Trappist breweries exist in Belgium, including Westmalle, Chimay, Koninghoeven, Rochefort, Orval, Achel and Westvleteren. The term abbey ale, however, is only a name, and does not guarantee the work of holy men.
Those who choose to travel to Belgium would be remiss not to sample these brews while in the area. In a tour of these breweries, William Little of The Observer noted that many of the best Belgian beers are unavailable outside of the region that they are brewed. Belgian beers have an apt comparison to French wine, boasting sophisticated flavors in every sip.
Touring the monasteries
?Orval monastery is located in the most southern reaches of Belgium and nestled amid a forest. According to Little, this is the most accessible of the brewing monasteries. Beer enthusiasts can wander the 18th-century cellar and the well where the monks get their water for making the beer. However, these grounds are still the domain of vow-sworn monks, meaning that prayer and silence dominate the day.
Chimay, perhaps the most famous of the Belgian beers, is brewed at the Abbaye Notre Dame De Scourmont. While visitors don't have access to the brewery, they are allowed to roam the grounds and gardens, which overlook picturesque farm and wood.
Westmalle monastery doesn't allow visitors, which may be a letdown for those wanting to get a tour. Yet, the monastery does offer its own small pleasures - monks serve a special brew only available at their cafe. The monks also make their own cheese, which pairs well with their beers. To get a taste, visitors must traverse across fields from the cafe to the monastery. After knocking on the door, travelers can talk with a Brother long enough to buy some of this delicious dairy.
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