Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Saturday Brew: Westvleteren Blond

Exactly how I acquired a bottle of the most exclusive monk beer in Belgium must remain a secret. Suffice to say that some people's kindness and generosity extends far beyond the norm.

The Westvleteren Brewery was founded by the monks at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Westvleteren in 1838. It was the third Belgian Trappist brewery to commence production, after Rochefort (1595) and Westmalle (1836). Today there are seven breweries currently brewing and selling beer with the logo of the International Trappist Association, and all but one are located in Belgium. Out of all these, folks say, Westvleteren is the best.

Even though the beer has grown in popularity, production has remained at around 4 500 hectoliters a year since 1945. In comparison, the Trappist Breweries Westmalle and Chimay each have an annual output of over 120 000 hl. The reason for the small production at Westvleteren is that the beer is brewed with the single purpose of financing the day-to-day costs of running the abbey. All extra profits go to charity.

Because of the recent rise in popularity, the abbey has had to place some restrictions on the sale of its beer to ensure that as many people as possible are given the chance to enjoy the product. The beer can only be bought at the abbey itself, and you have to call to a special "beerphone" to make an advance reservation, specifying the type and amount you will buy. You can only buy one or two 24-bottle crates at a time, depending on the type of beer. The Westvleteren 12, the priciest and most highly treasured brew, can only be bought one crate at a time. Resale to third parties is highly discouraged. Customers have their phone number and license plate number registered, to ensure that they don't violate the obligatory 60-day waiting time between reservations. It's easy to understand why a man who brings home a crate of Westvleteren beer must feel like Jim Hawkins bringing home a sackful of gold at the end of Treasure Island.

The three Westvleteren brews. From left to right: 12, 8,
and Blond, with Westvleteren 12 in the glass. (Source)

I could go on and on about the monastery, the brewery, the history, the countless times Westvleteren has been hailed as the best beer in the world... But let's get down to business. Let's get down to Westvleteren Blond.

I don't have a Westvleteren glass, but Wikimedia does.

As mentioned in my introduction to this column, I don't have the talent to write an interesting beer review. So instead, here's this week's crowdsourced review, from Goblinmunkey7 at Beer Advocate.


Appearance: Pale gold. Hazy. Head is tiny, bright-white and bubbly.

Smell: Heavy Belgian yeast. Clove an banana layered over a faint pepper note. Lemon and grass. Hay and bright melon. Yeast dominates and gives moderate ground to sweet pale malts. Esters. Apple.

Taste: Aggressive yeast from the start. Clove, banana and slight bubblegum. So much spice. Faint hints of lemon and pale malt, but it's all about the yeast. Aggressively Belgian. Slight hay and tons of fresh cut grass. Earthy. It's like a handful of spiced sand.

Mouthfeel: Light and dry. Moderate to high carbonation. Lingering yeast.

Overall: This is single-handedly the most Belgian beer I've ever tasted. Unrelenting and intense. Even though I'm not a fan of the style, this really shows how you craft it. Crazy flavor but nice and drinkable.

Read more reviews of Westvleteren Blond at beeradvocate.com

All I can say of my own experience is, I hope this wasn't my last bottle of Westvleteren Blond. I'm also looking forward to trying out the other two Westvleteren beers, if luck be a lady. After all, this is what makes Belgium Belgium.

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