While their simultaneity is just a coincidence, the two recent buzzes about the famous Belgian Westvleteren beer were destined to strengthen each other. On the one hand, leading beer review website RateBeer announced that the Westvleteren 12 had returned to the top spot in the “World's best beer” ranking. On the other hand, Westvleteren announced it would temporarily break with its traditions and export 420,000 bottles of the very same beer to eight countries.
Apart for being famous for its supreme quality, the Westvleteren beers are also notorious for being “hard to get”. In order to acquire the beer in the official way, one has to call the abbey on a specified time and date (often leading to a busy signal) and when the order is confirmed, the beer lover has to go to the Westvleteren abbey in the middle of nowhere and collect his – max. 3 – crates at the abbey gates.
First Belgian distribution led to huge queues
Now, for one time only, the abbey has decided to export 70,000 boxes – each consisting of 6 bottles of Westvleteren XII special edition and two glasses – to six European countries, the US and Canada. The boxes are themed in a 'brick' style and the glasses bear the motto "Ad aedificandam abbatiam adiuvi” (“I supported the construction of the abbey”): the only reason the monks now offer their beers semi-worldwide is to collect money for the significant reconstruction works their abbey needs after being declared unsafe by the fire brigade.
Last year, the abbey already distributed 93,000 boxes throughout Belgium with the same goal, leading to immense queues of beer lovers seeking the – even in Belgium – notably unobtainable beer. The monks then announced they would brew another extra shift, in order to satisfy a part of the huge demand from abroad.
Because of the formidable demand and the very low supply – the monks only brew just enough beer to earn a living and support a little charity – prices on the internet are sky-high. It is not uncommon to see a few bottles of Westvleteren sold on eBay for over 200 euro, while the normal price at the gate is only € 1.63 per bottle.
Serving six European countries, US and Canada
The 70,000 new boxes are distributed in three phases: the, ongoing, first part will be sent to France, Ireland and Switzerland, while the second part will reach Italy, Spain and the US in March. The last part will serve Canada, the Netherlands and (again) France in April. Last year's boxes (including 2 limited edition glasses) were sold for € 25, but it is yet to be determined how much the boxes will cost in the eight countries involved.
Westvleteren's friar Godfried acknowledged the 70,000 boxes are not enough for the worldwide demand, but says that no matter how big the supply is, “it is an illusion to think we can ever satisfy the demand.”
Westvleteren best beer in the world (again)...
At almost the same time as Westvleteren's press release, RateBeer.com released its latest list of “Best top 50 beers in 2012”-list, where the Westvleteren 12 reclaims the top spot that it occupied two years ago. Swedish Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter, topping the list in 2009 and 2011, now falls to a second spot behind Westvleteren again, a position they also held in 2007 and 2010.
The friars shared their award with the Belgian Beer industry: “The Sint-Sixtus abbey of Westvleteren, and her brewery, are grateful for the honourable mention 'best beer in the world' on the website Ratebeer.com, and see it as a sign of appreciation towards all the Belgian beers.” They also stated they “explicitly want to share this honour with all the Belgian brewers whose continuing efforts result in beers of an exceptional quality”.
And indeed, Belgium is well represented in the top-50 list. Apart from the Westvleteren 12 and the brewery's 8 (in 18th place), the Trappist order of monks also catches a fifth place with the Rochefort 10. Eight other Belgian beers also reach the worldwide best 50, including two beers by the Struise Brouwers (Oostvleteren) and one from Sint-Bernardus (Watou), both brewed just a few kilometres from the famous abbey.
... and Oostvleteren best brewery in the world (outside US)
Indeed, the Ypres region appears to be the Holy Land for beer enthousiasts, as the Struise Brouwers, Westvleteren and Sint-Bernardus all appear in RateBeer's top-6 of best non-American brewers. Struise (9th in the overall list) is the only brewery outside the US to reach Ratebeer's worldwide top-10, while Sint-Sixtus Westvleteren is 13th and Sint-Bernardus 32nd.
RateBeer names Three Floyds (Indiana) as best brewery in the world, a position that was held by the town of Vleteren in 2002 and 2003 (Sint-Sixtus) and 2008 (Struise Brouwers). Only three other European breweries reach the overall top-30: Dutch De Molen (12th), Danish Mikkeller (16th) and Belgian Rochefort (30th).