Westvleteren is a brewery founded in 1838 at The Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium, the Abbey itself dating back to 1260. The beers that the monks brew are widely regarded as the best beers in the world, their Westvleteren XII (or simply 12 for short) is consistently ranked as the world’s best beer. The monks aren’t in the brewing business for riches or glory however. They only brew enough beer to support themselves and their abbey, and of the 10 Trappist monasteries around the world that produce beer, Westvleteren produces the least. Not only do they produce the least, it’s also the hardest to get.
The beer is available at the abbey’s café, with limits on its purchase (by the glass or limited to two six packs) or through the brewery’s drive-thru, with a limit of one case per car and per phone number, limited to one purchase every 60days, and must be ordered on their “beer-phone” at least 60 days ahead of time. Good luck getting through on that number as they receive around 85,000 calls every hour, of which they answer only 200 during the two to three hour window the “beer-phone” ordering system is operated.
The beers sell for about $3 at the brewery door, but because of its super limited supply, and its world recognition, the beers go-on to hit resellers at around $65 bottle.
I never thought I would get to try any of the Westvleteren range, and it never really concerned me as there is so much great Australian craft beer being consistently released, it never seemed too urgent.
However not long ago a friend managed to lay his hands on a few bottles to celebrate a personal milestone, and I realised exactly what I had been missing. Up until then my favourite Trappist beer was Chimay Blue but thanks to online retailers like Craft Cartel and the similarly named Beer Cartel we all have the ability to try beers that we normally wouldn’t see.
Living in a regional centre we don’t always get to see the limited release beers as the beers go to the bigger cities, or are bought so limited in numbers they sell out quickly, and often the freight component makes them just too expensive to try more than one and work out whether you really enjoy the beer.
Because of the buying power and the contacts of the online guys they have the ability to access beers that you normally wouldn’t find, not only like the Westvleteren, but other seasonal releases and limited editions that normally wouldn’t make it to our local bottleshops. For those that know what they want you have a large range to choose from, for those that don’t many of the online retailers offer tasting packs or a beer club where you receive a mixed pack as often as you choose. If you find something you like you can choose to buy more or just embrace the lucky dip that comes with the beer club experience. If you have a set style you like then places like “We Love Craft Beer – Australia” have packs that range from styles through to state by state craft breweries.
Online beer delivery clubs like this you to immerse yourself into this crazy world of craft beer.
My top three Trappist beers:
It is laid down for 5 years or more (much like most fine red wines), is big, it’s bold, and has a dry fruity, manly chest hair producing 9% alcohol. I can best explain the taste by saying that if you were to make a sandwich using one piece of wholemeal bread and one piece of pumpernickel, and then put some dried dark fruits and sprinkle yeast on it, and then eat that and you’ve got the taste. However it’s not cheap and is priced at approx $9.99 per 330ml stubby. But every beer lover needs to pay their Telstra bill late and use that money, or dip into the family food budget just to try this once in a life-time it’s one of those special things. It’s built to age too. Available online and all larger bottleshops.
Rochefort Brewery (Brasserie de Rochefort) is a Belgian brewery which produces three beers designated as Trappist beers since the sixteenth century, with their beers numbered after their alcohol content ie 10 being 10%. This is by far their strongest offering in terms of overall intensity and alcoholic strength. Sweet malt and bready yeast dominate the nose and taste alongside notes of prune, fig and brandy poached pear, sweet cigar spice and a chocolate dusting. Full bodied and quite chewy with that high alcohol present all the way through, but it ages beautifully and will carry good bottle age. Available online and all larger bottleshops, between $11 and $16 bottle.
Consistently rated as the best beer in the world, it’s certainly extraordinary but I can imagine there would be a certain group of drinkers that would strongly disagree. The 10.2%alc Quadruple styled ale with aromas that leap from the glass; spiced baked apples, bready yeasty notes, figs and dates, a touch of gingerbread and dark brown sugar along with some interesting cherry and dark grape notes. It’s huge in the mouth, smooth and silky and extremely complex. Roasted hazelnuts, pecan pie, clove and cinnamon, stewed plum and dark raisin, some sourdough notes, with a dense and chewy feel. About $65 bottle, available Beer Cartel.