Beer Geek

Raise the roof with a rare beer brewed by monks

Dec. 13, 2012 at 1:32 PM ET

Westvleteren 12 /
A six-pack of this beer, brewed by Belgian monks, sells for $85 in order to raise money for their monastery's leaky roof.

If you’re like me, you know the holidays are a time for drawing your family and friends near, doing things for others who are less fortunate than yourself and becoming obsessed with scoring the hottest gizmo or toy of the season. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.

Thanks to a leaky roof in Belgium, we can now add a beer to our must-have December OCD list.  But it’s not just any beer, it’s quite possibly the best beer in the worldWestvleteren 12, a 10.2 percent ABV Belgian Quadrupel that, according to breathless reviews on BeerAdvocate, will tantalize your senses with nuanced layers of dark fruits,  molasses, rum,  toffee, apples,  bread pudding, caramel,  fruit cake and unicorn tears. I may have made that last one up, but you get the idea – this stuff is widely considered to be magical.

“Westy 12” (as the cool kids call it) it is brewed by Trappist monks at the abbey of St. Sixtus of Westvleteren in the Flanders region of Belgium. The monks have been brewing the same amount of beer since 1945 – just 3,800 barrels a year, making it a very rare treat, indeed. 

Up until now, the beer has only been available for purchase in very limited supplies directly from the monastery in Belgium, and then only with a hard-to-get reservation.  But the monks need a new roof for the monastery, so they’ve done something that they may never do again — they have exported a batch of Westvleteren 12 for sale in the United States.

As of 12/12/12, beer geeks can get their hands on a six-pack of Westy 12 for $85.00. The beers are being sold as six packs only, and each comes with two commemorative tasting glasses.

People with better organizational skills than myself reserved their taste of Westy 12 long ago, in some cases teaming up with their friends to share the experience (and the expense). Others industrious folks lined up on launch day for a chance to claim a bundle of the beers. What wasn’t pre-sold or snapped up on the first day of sales will be put on the shelves, but it’d take a minor miracle to find a taste of Westy 12 in the wild at this point. There’s still a chance – after all, Christmas is a time of miracles.

So what can you do to get your hands on this hot commodity?  Well, there are a few options.  First, let your fingers do the walking.  A list of stores that received a shipment can be found here, and it’s worth a call to see if they might have a package or two still hanging around. 

Bottles will surely begin to flow onto Craigslist or eBay before too long as folks try to recoup on their investment – after all, if they charge $25 a bottle, they can net a cool fifteen bucks and still have two “free” bottles of Westvleteren 12 to tuck into their cellar, which is two bottles more than most beer geeks ever thought they’d have.

Of course, if you resist the urge to buy Westvleteren 12, there are wonderful alternatives available that are relatively easy to find.  I understand that nobody wants to get Go Bots when they asked for Transformers on their wish list, but this is more like getting Optimus Prime when you asked for Bumblebee.

Belgian Quadrupels like the remarkable Trappistes Rochefort 10 and St. Bernardus Abt 12 are special in their own rights, cost about a third of what they’re asking for Westy 12, and can be found in many beer stores. Both of these beers have intricately nuanced flavors and are brewed in Belgium by monks, just ones that have sturdier roofs and more aggressive business plans. You’re not going to suffer by substituting Westvleteren 12 with either of these remarkable beers.

With that said, Christmas is the season of giving, and anyone who had the good fortune to score a six-pack of Westvleteren 12 can feel free to “give” me a taste.

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.