The Westvleteren Brewery (Brouwerij Westvleteren)
is a Belgian
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...
A brewery is a dedicated building for the making of beer, though beer can be made at home, and has been for much of beer's history. A company which makes beer is called either a brewery or a brewing company....
founded in 1838 inside the Trappist
TRAPPIST is Belgian robotic telescope in Chile which came online in 2010, and is an acronym for TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope, so named in homage to Trappist beer produced in the Belgian region. Situated high in the Chilean mountains at La Silla Observatory, it is actually...
Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren in the Belgian municipality of Vleteren
Vleteren is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the towns of Oostvleteren, Westvleteren and Woesten. On January 1, 2006 Vleteren had a total population of 3,636. The total area is 38.15 km² which gives a population density of 95 inhabitants...
, not far from the hops
Hops are the female flower clusters , of a hop species, Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor, though hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine...
-producing town of Poperinge
Poperinge is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders, Flemish Region, and has a history going back to mediaeval times. The municipality comprises the town of Poperinge proper and surrounding villages. The area is famous for its hops and lace.-The town:Poperinge is situated...
and the medieval city of Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...
. The brewery and its beers are usually referred to as Westvleteren
. The brewery's three beers have acquired an international reputation for taste and quality, as well as the limited availability of the beers which are not brewed to normal commercial demands.
Trappist monks from the Catsberg monastery, located in France, founded the St Sixtus monastery in 1831. In 1838, the brewing at
Westvleteren commenced. In 1850, some of the monks founded the Notre-Dame de Scourmont monastery, which also brews a Trappist beer
A Trappist beer is a beer brewed by or under control of Trappist monks. There are a total of 174 Trappist monasteries worldwide ; only seven produce Trappist beer and are authorized to label their beers with the Authentic Trappist Product logo that indicates a compliance to the various rules of...
. During World Wars I and II, the Westvleteren brewery continued to operate, albeit at a lower capacity. The brewery was the only Trappist one to retain the copper vessels throughout the wars—the
other breweries had the copper salvaged by the Germans for their war efforts. In WWI this was primarily due to the abbey not being occupied by the Germans, but instead was caring for wounded allied troops.
In 1931, the abbey began selling beer to the general public, having only served beer to guests and visitors up until that time. In 1946, the St. Bernardus
St. Bernardus is a type of Abbey beer produced at Watou in Belgium.-History:In the late 19th century anti-clericalism in France forced the move of the Catsberg Abbey Community to the village of Watou in West Flanders, Belgium. The “Refuge Notre Dame de St.Bernard” was established, originally as a...
brewery in nearby Watou was granted a licence to brew beer under the St Sixtus
name. This agreement ended in 1992; St. Bernardus still brews beers of similar styles, but under their own name. That same year, the abbey opened its new brewery to replace the older equipment.
The brewery currently employs three secular workers for various manual labour tasks, however the primary brewing is done by the monks only. It is the only Trappist brewery where the monks still do all of the brewing. Of the 26 Cistercians who reside at the abbey, five monks run the brewery, with an additional five who assist during bottling.
As with all other Trappist breweries, the beer is only sold in order to financially support the monastery and other philanthropic causes. Whilst the brewery is a business by definition (its purpose is to make money), it does not exist for pure profit motives, and they do no advertising except for a small sign outside the abbey which indicates the daily availability of each beer. The monks have repeatedly stated that they only brew enough beer to run the monastery, and will make no more than they need to sell, regardless of demand. During World War II, the brewery stopped supplying wholesalers and since then they only sell to individual buyers in person at the brewery or the visitor's centre opposite. These methods all go against modern business methods, however as stated by the Father Abbott on the opening of the new brewery, "We are not brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks."
The brewery currently brews three beers:
- Westvleteren Blonde (green cap), 5.8% ABV
Alcohol by volume is a standard measure of how much alcohol is contained in an alcoholic beverage .The ABV standard is used worldwide....
, introduced on 10 June, 1999.
- Westvleteren 8 (blue cap) (formerly Extra), 8% ABV.
- Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap) (formerly Abt), a 10.2% ABV, introduced in 1940.
Until 1999, the brewery also produced a 6.2% ABV dark beer and a lighter 4° which served as the monks' table beer, but these were replaced by the Blonde. The 8 and 12 are bottle conditioned and are considered to have a long shelf life
Shelf life is the length of time that food, drink, medicine, chemicals, and many other perishable items are given before they are considered unsuitable for sale, use, or consumption...
, with some drinkers preferring the taste when the beers have been stored for several years. The ingredients are yeast, hops, malt, sugar, caramel and water.
The bottles have been sold without labels since 1945. All of the legally required information is printed on the crown tops. Because of this lack of space, Westvleteren beers are the only Trappist beers that do not have the official Trappist logo displayed on the bottle. The logo is only printed on the distinctive wooden crates. Any bottles that are labelled have had them added unofficially by others. For example, some importers into the United States label the bottles in order to comply with local regulations.
Currently, the beer is priced at €30.00 (Blonde), €34.00 (8°) and €39.00 (12°) per 24-bottle crate (excluding bottle/crate deposit). Deposit for empty bottles and crate: 12 EUR (9.60 EUR for the crate plus 0.10 EUR per bottle). Glasses specifically designed to drink the beer can be purchased at the abbey in packs of 6 for 17 euro.
Buyers were originally limited to ten 24-bottle crates of the beer per car, but as the beer increased in popularity, this was first reduced to five, then to three and now to two or one crates. For the Westvleteren 12 in 2009, it was limited to one case. When making an order now, the type and quantity of beer available for sale are revealed. Sales are limited to one order a month per person per license plate and phone number. Also, the beer must be reserved on their "beerphone" beforehand. The monks do not sell beer to individuals who drive up to the abbey hoping to purchase beer. The reason for this is to eliminate commercial reselling, and hence give all visitors a chance to purchase the product.
The current production is 4750 hl (60,000 cases) per year, and has remained the same since 1946.
Aside from the brewery itself, the only other official sale point for the beer is the abbey-owned In de Vrede
, a cafe and visitor's centre opposite the abbey. All beers can be bought there for immediate consumption or take-away, depending on availability (however, prices are higher than at the abbey). Often there is no beer available at the shop. The shop also sells cheeses made at the abbey, yeast tabs (not yeast to make beer but dead yeast for health) and other Trappist products.
Buyers of the beer receive a receipt with Niet verder verkopen
("Do not resell") printed on it. The abbey is very much against resale of their beer, and it is their wish that the beer is only commercially available at the two official sale points. To this end, any Westvleteren beer which is sold anywhere else in the world is grey market
A grey market or gray market also known as parallel market is the trade of a commodity through distribution channels which, while legal, are unofficial, unauthorized, or unintended by the original manufacturer...
beer, as no wholesalers or pubs are supplied with the beer. The abbey is actively working to eliminate the illicit sales, and generally only agrees to media interviews to spread their message against drinking illicitly sold Westvleteren beer.
In October, 2010 there were speculations that the beer would be sold in supermarkets , which have not yet come to pass.
The brewery and the Belgian retailer Colruyt are bringing a gift pack (6 bottles Westvleteren 12, 2 glasses) for sale, only against exchange of promotional coupons printed in selected media. Goal of the sales is to increase income to provide funds for urgent and immediate renovations at the monastery. Available from November 2, 2011, sales will be limited to 93.000 packs. One pack per coupon at 25,00 Euro/pack. All earnings of the sale will go to the renovation project. This is a first in the history of the brewery. (source: Het Nieuwsblad, October 14 2011)
On November 4 2011, it was announced that US importer Shelton Brothers would be importing 7760 gift packs consisting of 6 bottles Westvleteren 12 and 2 glasses starting in April of 2012. Also mentioned was that Manneken-Brusel Imports out of Austin, TX would also be importing an undisclosed amount of the beer into the U.S market. Pricing is to be determined.
Although taste is highly subjective and individual, many international beer drinkers consider the Westvleteren 12 to be among their favourite beers. The members of BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com, two beer rating
Beer rating is assessing and evaluating beer using a point system. The process is similar to that used in beer judging competitions, such as those organised by the Beer Judge Certification Program in America, though the participants are consumers so it may be termed a score-rated recommendation...
websites, consistently rate the Westvleteren 12 as their most enjoyable beer; the 8 and the Blonde also rank highly on both sites.
In June 2005, when Westvleteren 12 was again highlighted as "Best Beer in the World" in a bi-annual competition on RateBeer.com, news organizations followed this up and articles appeared in the international press, highlighting the beer ranking and the unusual business policies.
Following these events, interest in Westvleteren's output increased and stories appeared of the abbey's stock being low, forcing the monks to reduce the amount of beer sold to each customer. In an interview with The Independent
, monk Mark Bode explained that the abbey had no intention of increasing its production, despite demand: "We make the beer to live but we do not live for beer."
Despite the popularity, the monks of St Sixtus have continued to decline almost all interview and visit requests, and have not enjoyed all of the attention they have received. Non-monastic visitors to the abbey are usually turned away, instead being directed to the visitor's centre opposite where there is information about the abbey and brewery. They have stated their desire to only produce as much beer as needed to finance the community.
External links Abbey of Saint Sixtus official website