Thanks to a crumbling monastery in Belgium, beer drinkers in Ontario are about to get their hands on one of the rarest, most sought-after brews on the planet.
The monastery in question is the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus, in Vleteren, Belgium. The brew in question is Westvleteren 12, a strong, dark ale considered by many aficionados to be the greatest beer in existence.
The monks usually only make their wares available at the Abbey gate, and only to people who promise not to sell it to others (especially for profit). Most of the time, that means it’s all but impossible to find; when restaurants or bars do manage to get their hands on the odd case or two, they’ll often sell it for $50 a bottle or more.
So it was only natural that when the monks realized the early 19th-century Abbey walls and foundation were crumbling beyond repair, they turned to beer for help.
Specifically, they ramped up production and made 163,000 six-packs of their rare brew available to exporters and local sales agents in Belgium, as a way to raise funds to build a new Abbey. (While they’d raised money from community donations and corporate support, there was still a gap, which the beer funds managed to fill). Now 1,404 of those six-packs are arriving at the LCBO in the next two weeks or so, just in time for the holiday gift-giving season. (If I were a gambling man, I’d bet on the rare suds hitting the shelves on Dec. 12: The marketing lure of 12/12/12 for Westvleteren 12 is just too great).
While the LCBO has been getting its hands on more higher-end collector’s beers over the last few years, landing the Westvleteren 12 is perhaps its greatest coup.
“We are very pleased to have a limited supply of such an exceptional and sought-after beer,” said James Hume, the LCBO’s beer and cider product manager, via email. “This is the first time people can buy this beer beyond the gates of the Westvleteren Abbey in Belgium, and we are fortunate to have been able to bring it to LCBO customers.”
While it won’t set you back $50 a bottle, the Westvleteren 12 won’t exactly be cheap, either: The six-packs, which include two Westvleteren chalices, will be selling for $75.40 apiece.
For that price, you’re getting a divine beer experience from the dark chestnut-coloured brew. It has an aroma of dried fruit, demerara sugar and freshly-baked bread.
In younger bottles, the demerara character is the most obvious note in the flavour. The potent level of alcohol (roughly 10 per cent), however, cuts the sweetness, keeping it from becoming cloying, as does a noticeable but not overwhelming hop bitterness on the finish.
After a few years of age, the more obvious sweetness fades, and the boozy heat is better integrated.
So just how was the Abbey able to suddenly make more of a beer that was previously so rare? The monks gave up some of their prayer time, and instead spent more time in the Abbey brewery.
“In order to make this volume available, Brother Joris and his team had to brew every month (since September 2010) an additional batch per month,” Westvleteren said in a press release. There are four monks involved in the brewing, while 11 are involved in the bottling.
Where to buy: LCBO
Price: $75.40 per six-pack.
Food pairings: Roast leg of lamb; wild boar chops; Stilton; fondue.
The verdict: A perfect gift for the beer geek in your life.