Westvleteren beer, the most elusive in the world

Twenty six years ago my husband introduced me to Westvleteren (pronounced fan vest flay tur ruh) beer whilst we were in Amsterdam. Quite how that quiet assuming little bar is stocking Westvleteren beer is anyone’s guess because it is the most elusive beer in the world. They make three varieties and one of them, the 12 has also been voted the best beer in the world several times.

Back when I was first introduced to it you had to order it by phoning the monastery where it is made, and agreeing to pick it up on a particular day. There are stories of people trying over 1000 times before they managed to get through. Now it is slightly easier, but not massively.

First though a bit of background

This is an order of Trappist monks who make beer in their spare time and have been doing it since the 1830s, in the Saint Sixtus Abbey.  They make it to fund their monastic studies, to let them stay holy.  We all need to pay our way, and they’re no different.  There is a sign on the road just outside the monastery that says during the First World War the soldiers would stop for beers on their way to the front line and you can read more about the history by clicking this link.

Getting your hands on Westvleteren beer

If you know about this beer the chances are you know that you can only buy it at the monastery. And that isn’t even an urban myth. Whilst we tried it in a bar in Amsterdam (we still dont know how they got it) you cant buy it the bars in the nearby villages, you cant buy it in the supermarkets locally and you certainly get a steady supply of it in the UK.

As I said above, historically you had to phone up to order it but a couple of years ago the monastery went high tech and built a website so you can order it online. Be warned though it is still relatively stressful.

Things to note about ordering online

Work backwards from the day you want to pick it up. Note they are not open for collections on Sundays or Mondays, and you will need to pick a time for collection on your appointed day when you go through the purchasing process. We opted not to pick it up on the day we arrived into Dunkirk on the ferry just in case they was a delay, as their last slot is 3.30pm, opting for 10am the next morning.

The day you want to collect determines the day you order, and online sales are not seven days a week. As you can see from the above screen grab. If you want to collect on the 20th, you need to place your order on 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th or 16th. You cant order it the week before, or even the day before. You have to order a week in advance and during the hours of about 8am and 6pm as outside of that they close what they call “the beer moments”.

My advice would be if you are making a special trip place your order as soon as the sales open in the preceding week to ensure maximum choice of the beers and available slots. For our collection on Wednesday morning, I placed our order as soon as the “beer moment’ began at 8am UK on the Tuesday of the previous week.

You can only buy four cases per order and only two cases of any variety.

You MUST give them your number plate prior to collection. You can order it without this if you are collecting a hire car but you must log on and add the plate to your account prior to collection.

You can only order once a month.

You will pay a deposit for the wooden crate, and the bottles. Refundable when you next visit if you take them back.

Collection of your Westvleteren beer

It is all incredibly organised. We arrived earlier than our 10am slot and found a couple of cars in front of us but they opened the gates at about 9.40 and we had collected and left before 10am. An actual monk checks you’re at the appointed time then scans your holy QR code with his holy scanner and then helps you load your beer into your car. 

Your name and car registration is then put on a beer blocklist (the number of weeks until your next order shall be at least 4 – three is right out) for a while and you swear that you will not sell your beer on. It’s just for you to drink. 

And it’s good. So good, in fact, that it regularly wins top prize at an international beer competition. Some of this is down to its near-legendary status (you have to go to a monastery to collect it, for heaven’s sake) but mostly it’s just that the beer is feisty, strong and delicious. 

It’s got bags of flavour like a good ale but still sparkles in the glass a bit like a lager. 

In De Vrede Cafe

Once you have bought your beer turn left out of the monastery and then turn right into the car park of the In De Vrede cafe. You can enjoy a glass of the beer, or a coffee and sandwich as you congratulate yourself on an epic mission accomplished.

You can also buy more beers, six in a box with a couple of glasses (but you take your chances on what they have available). They also stock other locally products such as honey, hand creams, cakes and the obligatory base ball caps and polo shirts.

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