Imbibe Hour


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wesvleteren arrives a chance to taste beer greatness?

In the times I have spent imbibing, and specificaly drinking beer, there were many great brews that I came across.  Going down the malt and hops road takes you on lots of interesting twists and turns, some places near, some far, and with that come many tales of greatness.  There isn't a day that goes by that I hear someone usually raving about a beer, claiming it to be the greatest thing ever since sliced bread.  Often times the beer is not where I am, it's from a brewery in some other part of country, and/or it has a limited release that is gobbled up with a low production.  In many ways the hype of it increases the desire among many beer fans to want it even more.  The beer is hard to get, and the rarer it is the demand starts increasing.  The stories get bigger, the raves keep continuing.  In the end it's like a snake eating iteslf into a vicious repeating cycle.  The beer in the end, becomes in a sort of way.. a myth of epic proportions, one where it's great tastes seems hard or impossible to believe.  In many ways the beer almost fits the mantra of, it must be good, because it's rare.

There are a few breweries in the world who have beers that fall into this category.  There is one though that every beer fan finds out about and it basicaly seems to fit into a special category that no other brewery can classify.  The brewery is simply known as Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren in Belgium, or as many refer to as just Westvleteren.  This is a brewery run by trappist monks who have been making their beers since 1838.  They only make three beers currently, each one placed in a very simple brown non descript bottle.  The only way to differentiate each one is by the breweries distinct cap on top containing the brewery's coat of arms.  A green cap is for their blonde ale, blue for a dubbel style refered to as simply "8", and one of their most coveted a yellow capped bottle containing a Belgian quadrupel style known as "12".  The "12" or "Westy 12" as some refer to, has been written about not just by beer fans but also other well known beer writers.  Many have refered to it as "the best beer in the world". 

The fascination with Westvleteren is nothing new having been talked and coveted about for so long.  In many ways the beers take on the great mythical proportions coupled with images of an old monastery monks, sitting around in robes making beer from their secret traditions.  The reality is they are a solid brewery operation, and don't walk around in robes all the time, but take great pride in what they make.  There is one unique issue that makes their beers coveted as well and herein lies the interesting character.  Westvleteren beers are only sold in one place, the brewery itself and a cafe they own in Westvleteren Belgium.  They are not even sold elsewhere in the country of Belgium (well technicaly read more below).  The fact they have been written about as the greatest and also have an idilyc history with extremely limited distribution (the monks will only produce enough beer to support their monastery) makes them very special.

At some point every beer lover wants to have these beers, but how? 

The result is with the demand many of the beers a "gray" market has appeared.  Demand for these beers all over the world, has created opportunities for people to purchase them and resell them, many times for large amounts of money, very much against the monks wishes.  The bottles within the local area aren't that expensive but have often been resold through other distributors for much more in ways that makes you wonder if it's really worth it.  If you live in America like I do, getting the chance to try these beers requires some leg work and also some introspection.  You can either spend the time to actually fly over and visit, or perhaps spend less money by finding them possibly through a distributor who bought some bottles, but is a small bottle to pay online from some distributor you don't know exactly worth it?  The other angle though which most beer fans do though, is trading with other beer fans to get them.

Acquiring these three beers for me was quite an interesting journey.  In many ways there has been criticism on both sides of the debate about Westvleteren beers. One is the obvious side of the monks who express succinctly for their beers to NOT be resold.  The second is the side and criticism of the monks to make more beer to stop the heightened demand and prices thus making them more available and affordable.  It's an interesting debate with no clear winners.

In the end, I've had many trips to Europe, but one right now is not in the cards anytime soon.  Finding another beer fan, we exchanged some goodies and I have now my chance to try all three of these beers. The best thing was sharing appreciation of good beer with someone, instead of just handing over cash to someone who might have alterior motives and could care less about good drink.

Below are my thoughts on all of them first starting with the Blonde Ale.  I had since purchased a chalice to hold these brews to see them in all their glory.

It was a long journey to get to this point in my imbibing life, a road that takes you many places and certainly ones that make it all worth it.  Another road I hope to do someday, is to get back to Belgium not just to have this beer again, but to also return the bottles and say thanks. My imbibing thoughts are posted below. Cheers to you all!

Review of Westvleteren Blonde Ale

Review of Westvleteren "8"

Review of Westvleteren "12"

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