Brouwerij Westvleteren is one of only 11 trappist breweries that currently brew and sell beer as an authentic trappist product. Six of the monasteries are located in Belgium, two in the Netherlands and one each in Austria, Italy and the United States.
My colleague, Brian Burt, covered much of the history in his review of Westvelteren XII:
The Brouwerij de Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren is one of six Belgian breweries recognized by the International Trappist Association to get the “Authentic Trappist Product” stamp of approval. Founded in 1838 at the Saint Sixtus Abbey, the Westvleteren brewery has been brewing beer for quite awhile, and you could say they’ve gotten pretty good at it.
The brewery hasn’t always been what it is now of course. The founding of the brewery in 1839 was only eight years after the Saint Sixtus monastery started, and the operation was a small one. From its founding, the monks only brewed beer for themselves and guests up until 1931, at which point they started selling beer to the public. A few short years later in 1946, the abbey gave the St. Bernadardus brewery licensing rights to sell beer under the St Sixtus branding, which lasted for quite sometime – all the way until 1992. At that time, the Saint Sixtus Abbey’s brewery was updated, and all brewing and sales of Westvleteren beer returned under their roof.
Opting against turning their product into an international commercially sold item and only selling enough to support their abbey, the brewery only produces 60,000 cases of 24 bottles each year. The demand for the beer far outweighs the production, but the monks have decided to only sell their beers at either their abbey through a reservation system, or their cafe across the street. Perhaps in line with their lack of desire to go commercial and only selling what they need to survive financially, their prices are actually quite reasonable as well. To get a crate of 24 bottles, you only have to pay €40, plus a €12 deposit for the crate and bottles, of which you get most of that back if returned. For such a highly sought after beer, an approximate price with today’s conversion is only $2.38 a bottle, including the deposit.
It only produces three beers, Westvleteren 6 (Blond), Westvleteren 8 and Westvleteren 12. It is largely known for Westvleteren 12, a quadrupel that is oftentimes regarded as one of, if not the, best beer in the world.
Today I will drink the Westvleteren VIII which is an 8 percent ABV dubbel ale. They affix no labels to the beers and as such, the beers can only be identified by their caps:
- Westvleteren 6 — Green
- Westvleteren 8 — Blue
- Westvleteren 12 — Gold
The bottle contains 33cl which is just a touch over 11 ounces. The only date present is a drink by date of Aug. 19, 2018 which is three years from the actual bottling date of August 19, 2015.
Pouring slowly as not to release the ample amount of sediment at the bottom of the bottle, I get a murky, medium brown color with ruby hues, about a finger of fizzy head and ample carbonation.
Aroma is complex and I receive big doses of raisins, figs and dates with lesser amounts of cherries, red apple, bread and candy. As I indulge in the fine nose of this beer, I see out of the corner of my eye that some of the murkiness of this beer has gone as the sediment has settled, revealing even more of the ruby brown color of this brew.
Taste is much like the aroma, very complex with flavors of dark fruits, sweet maltiness, yeast, brandy, dark cherries and a fruity tartness that fades away quickly. This beer is medium-bodied, slightly slick and buttery and has a great tart, spicy alcohol presence. As it warms, the mélange of flavors remains exceptionally balanced and the finish is slightly tart, sweet, dry and short-lived.