Saturday, January 19, 2008

westvleteren (and everything you ever wanted to know about trappist beer)

a few days ago, adam and i went to our new favoritest beer pub just around the corner. i had walked past this place several times in the past couple of months and was always impressed with their signage on the front, advertising the extremely diverse selection of belgian, dutch, and german beers. we finally checked it out one day and were hooked. the bartender knows just about anything a person could possibly know about beer (like a waiter at a fancy restaurant that knows the wine list like the back of his hand -- but it's beer instead) and was able to recommend several different types to us based on our mood/desire/taste/preference. this dude was incredible. and the beer menu is the most impressive i've seen anywhere outside of belgium -- there must be like 50 or 60 different types on there! amazing!

anyway, we ended up going back to this pub the other day to... er... "educate" ourselves more on this fabulous beer culture out here. (disclaimer: i don't drink an entire beer by myself. adam picks out a couple that he would like to try, and i sip off of his, but mostly drink water or soda. don't worry! i'm not going out partying or drinking strong belgian beers while 9 months pregnant! i only taste!) anyway, we got to try this beer called westvleteren , which apparently was voted best beer in the world in 2005. the bartender says it is "the most beautiful beer i ever had." so of course we had to try it!

which has since sparked this obsession we now have with trappist beers. and hence this blog entry. i want to write it all down, cuz i've been trying to learn more about it ever since i had this amazing beer. (which, like the bartender says, is the most beautiful beer i ever had. it's incredible -- slightly bitter, extremely smooth. i've never had a more smooth beer. like silk slithering down your throat. omg, it's extraordinary!)

so the deal with trappist beers is that there are only 7 of them in the whole wide world. (achel, chimay, orval, rochefort, westmalle, westvleteren, and la trappe -- the only dutch trappist. all the others are belgian.) a trappist beer is a beer that is brewed either within the walls of a monastery, or under the direct supervision of monks. specifically, cistercian (aka "trappist") monks. additionally, the trappist beer can not be sold for profit, but rather must be sold as a means to support the work/ministry of the monks. in other words, these are monks who happen to brew beer, not brewers who happen to be monks. any other beers that are in the style of a trappist beer, but are not brewed by trappists or are brewed for profit, are simply known as abbey beers. (still extremely delicious, though!)

westvleteren is one of the most difficult beers to get your hands on -- partly because of this "world's best beer" distinction that they were awarded (but to be fair the production has always been quite modest). of course the monks did not increase production of their beer once this award was given, because as they have said repeatedly: they are not brewers, they are monks. they only brew so that they can afford to live as monks. it is such a popular beer that you now have to call ahead for a reservation to pick up your order, and in addition you have to tell them the license plate number of the car which will be picking it up -- so that someone can't just drive up there and be all, "oh, i'm here for my beer" and "steal" your order. the bartender says that he drives down there a couple of times a year and stocks up on this stuff himself, and then drives it back here. he barely advertises it on his menu, but if asked by a customer if he has any in stock, he gives an honest answer. he keeps it in a special case or safe or something in his bar, and when he brings it to you, he brings it still sealed in the bottle, along with a bottle opener. this way you can keep the bottlecap, which is obviously a collector's item. (he also asked if we wanted to keep the bottle, but we passed on that...) which brings me to my next point: the people who get this beer from the monks have to promise not to sell it to anyone else -- any beer that is sold in stores or in pubs (like where we were) is kind of a "gray market" beer. we didn't know that when we were drinking it! how sinful of us! (kinda makes it taste just a little sweeter, though, huh?)

so, now you know everything about trappist beers! if you come out here to visit us, we will bring you to our pub so you can sample for yourself just how lekker it all is!


Valerie said...

Ooooh, I wanna try Westvleteren, I've never had that before...

teresa said...

That sounds completely amazing; I am literally drooling.
I have had Chimay, a lot, and wonder how that monastery is able to do such a huge production?

It is interesting that by definition, the trappist beers are kinda non-profit-to-benefit-the-monks. Makes we want to drink them more often!