Today marks the release of Westvleteren XII in the United States. The most highly-acclaimed, rarest beer in the world, "Westy" as it's known to beer fanatics, hails from Brouwerij Westvleteren in the Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium. The reason its release is so significant, why you may even have heard about it on the way to work this morning, is that its availability anywhere outside the abbey is unprecedented -- until today.
The monks of St. Sixtus don't allow sales of the beer outside the abbey, with the exception of café In de Vrede adjacent to the brewery, because profits of the beer allow only for the continuation of their way of life. Now that the monastery needs a new roof and structural maintenance, they have permitted sales of six-packs (complete with a set of chalices and kitschy packaging), dubbed "bricks," in France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and, finally, the United States. While the brewery offers the beer for 39 Euros, U.S. prices have varied between $84.99 to $109.99.
We called L.A. retailers offering the 10.2% abv Quadrupel, but the only stores that didn't have repeated busy signals were sold-out. Merchants who were unavailable at time of posting (therefore potentially not sold-out) include The Bruery Provisions, Stearns Liquor Mart, and multiple locations of Total Wine & More.
The release has not been without controversy. Shelton Brothers distributors have dedicated the lion's share to chain retailer, Total Wine & More, leaving many of the independent stores they usually favor with fewer than two dozen boxes each. Perhaps coordinating a nation-wide, one-time release required the kind of networking that only a massive company can provide. It seems unfortunate that small businesses shouldn't be given the opportunity.
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It's problematic to name something the best in the world (ratebeer.com) if it's also the least available in the world. It becomes something of urban legend when the closest you've come to the beer itself is hearing about your friend's brother's trip to Belgium. We're not saying Westvleteren 12 isn't worth the hype. Westy is good -- really, really good. It's the kind of beer that calls upon the drinker to note things like leather and pipe tobacco and a litany of other snobbish descriptors. Is it the best in the world? The decision is in your hands ... If you can still find it.
Click here for a list of all U.S. retailers selling the beer. Curious about the style but can't find your own bottle of Westy 12? Try Rochefort Trappistes 10 or St. Bernardus 12, two widely available quads that will give you an idea of the complexity of these big, dark, abbey beers.
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