If you don't know much about the world of beer, here's the explanation of why this is a big deal: Belgium is the Mecca of the beer-producing world. It is to beer what Bordeaux is to wine. Many, many styles of beer come out of Belgium, but one certain type is held in particularly high regard. This is the ale made by Trappist monks. Belgium has six Trappist breweries, and there is another in the Netherlands. Trappist beers are some of the finest produced, and in general are not very hard to find. The largest Trappist brewery, Chimay, makes ales that are available just about anywhere that sells beer. Every Trader Joe's around here stocks it all the time. As for the others: any really decent beer shop should sell them. If I decided right now that I wanted an Orval, Westmalle or Rochefort, I could hop in my car and have a bottle in my hand within 20 minutes.
The joker in the pack of Trappist beers is Westvleteren. It is the most sought after Trappist beer, but has no official distribution in the US, or anywhere, for that matter. The only place that legally sells it is the actual monastery - or rather the brewery's visitor center. In order to obtain a Westvleteren, you would need to perform the following steps.
Go to Belgium. Proceed to the town of Vleteren.
Dial a special phone number to order a case of beer.
Drive to the visitor center to pick up the beer.
Keep in mind that the brewery is very small, and the demand for the beer is far greater than the supply, and it may take many, many phone calls before you are able to get a case. As the brewery's website wryly notes, it will take a "lot of luck" to reserve a case.
The brewery makes three styles, but the most desirable is the Westvleteren 12, the strongest of the three. The very high quality of the 12, combined with its lack of availability, gives it a certain mystique. It has been voted the best beer in the world on several occasions. Voters on the popular beer ratings sites, RateBeer and BeerAdvocate have placed it in the first and second spots, respectively, in their beer rankings.
So Westvleteren 12 has been sort of the "holy grail" of beers. Thus it was quite surprising that the monastery had cut a deal with EU and US distributors to sell a limited number of "gift packs," each containing 6 bottles of Westie 12 and two glasses. The monastery is not supposed to make a profit on the beer; the only reason they are allowing outside distribution is that their building needs a new roof. The US distribution deal was announced last year, but the release date had been pushed back couple times - until now. Today, on 12/12/12, a select number of liquor stores in 26 states put the gift packs on sale. This momentous event was big enough to get mentions in mainstream media sources. I knew of a few local outlets that would be carrying this, so I headed out this morning to arrive before opening time.
|Not pictured: the tears of joy running down my face.|
I suppose later tonight I'll actually open up a bottle and try it. Undoubtedly the experience will be a bit anti-climatic. No beer can really live up the title of "best beer in the world." Still, as a beer fanatic, a major gap in my beer-drinking experience will have been filled.
By the way, if you are curious about this beer but don't want to spend $400, here's a little secret that beer lovers know. There is a very close approximation of Westie 12 that is easily obtainable: St Bernardus Abt 12. The monks from Westvleteren gave their recipe to the monks at the nearby Abbey of St Bernardus. The two beers are often considered to taste very similar, though Westie 12 is usually thought to be a bit better.