If you ever, EVER, find yourself in Belgium, I would like to implore you to visit the Westvleteren Monastery. I didn't, and I regret it still. If you happen to be a beer geek, you almost certainly have heard of Westvleteren (if you haven't, then you aren't a beer geek). I will give you a bit of a background in case you haven't.
The story is long and complicated, so I will do my best to give you an abbreviated version. The St. Sixtus Abbey has been well known for brewing the beers known as Trappist Westvleteren since about the mid 1800s. In the 1930s, the brewery began commercially producing and selling their beer to the general public. Up until that time, the beer was only for visitors and themselves. After WWII, the brewery and monastery were in disarray (as you might expect), so Westvleteren beers were contract brewed by the nearby St. Bernardus Brewery. St. Bernardus brewed these trappist beers all the way up until 1992, when their contract ended. The contract was not renewed for a couple reasons: 1) The Trappist monasteries agreed that a "Trappist" beer must be brewed inside the walls of a Trappist monastery. 2) They (Westvleteren) finally updated their brewery to a higher capacity.
St. Bernardus continues to produce beers similar to Westvletern. What is funny about the whole thing is that St. Bernardus uses the original St. Sixtus yeast. Westvleteren changed yeasts to the Westmalle yeast. Don't ask me why, I have no idea. All I know is that these beers are delicious.
This particular beer is the Westvleteren 8. It is the quintessential Belgian Dubbel in my opinion. It sits at a comfortable 8% ABV that will not be very noticable on the taste, but extremely noticeable if you drink several. On that note, please don't drink several in one sitting. Westvleterens are a gift from St. Sixtus. Seriously, all of their beers sit within the top 10 of beers I have ever tried. They are meant to be enjoyed with friends and family and sipped, not gulped. I aged this particular 8 for 2 years and it aged very nicely. It is malty, yet unbelievably smooth. This beer drinks like velvet. The flavor undertones are all dark fruits and spices. It is very complex, but drinkable, so you have to take your time and slow things down. This is a beer to be savored.
This brings me to the availability point. Westveleteren might be one of the most difficult beers to obtain (from the US). The beers are legally sold year round in only two locations: the monastery and a cafe just outside of the monastery. If you are in Belgium, you can find bottles for resale in some beer stores, but at a huge markup. Since the monastery needs renovations again, the monks decided to do a mass release of their more-sought-after Westvleteren 12. They released some gift packs in Europe and they are doing a release in the US, although those might be harder to obtain that just going to the brewery yourself. To give you an idea of how much it costs, I picked up a 6-pack in Italy for a cool 90 Euro.
I drank this beer with my family at Easter time and I am just getting around to talking about it. I was afraid that I wouldn't do it justice. I don't really think I did, but oh well. The 8 has a bigger, better big brother, the 12, which I already noted that I have. Stay tuned for that post at some point.
Whenever you get the chance, I would strongly encourage you to try the Westvleteren beers. I hear they make a great gift for your local neighborhood beer blogger too.
Glassware: Goblet, snifter
Synonym Beer: Westmalle Dubbel (close and much less expensive, so better for everyday drinking)
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