My first encounter with Westvleteren 12 was somewhat of a disappointment. I was sat in a bar in Ghent with the boyfriend, he ordered it, we had no idea of its significance and I can’t even remember if I tried it.
So you can imagine my dismay a few years down the line when I developed huge enthusiasm for Trappist beers and realised what I’d missed out on.
I remember meeting an American couple in Bruges who told me about their quest to seek out this beer. The woman’s eyes lit up as she told me about the ‘beer phone’, the strict reservation process, and their plans to hire a car and collect it to take home to the US.
Now that’s dedication, I thought. This stuff really must be good.
I did a little more research and its exclusivity, coupled with its ‘best beer in the world’ accolade, made it all the more enticing.
A moral dilemma
Once I learned what its iconic bottle looked like I spotted it on my next holiday to Bruges, in every other bottle shop, at an inflated price of 15 Euros. One local bartender shook his head disapprovingly when I mentioned it and warned me they were ‘probably fake’. And although curiosity nearly got the better of me I decided the monks hadn’t intended it to be sold commercially, so I decided to wait until I could visit Sint Sixtus Abbey.
Then my morals were put to the test. I was having a hectic day in work when the postman arrived with a ‘fragile’ box with my name on it. Strange. I hadn’t ordered anything. I opened it to find my brother had treated me to some Belgian and Dutch beer, including St Bernardus Tripel, Westmalle Tripel, St Feuillien Blonde and Delirium Red.
Then I saw it. That little gold cap atop a label-less bottle. I held it in my hands like a delicate piece of jewellery, then held it up to my colleagues, pointing open-jawed. They stared back blankly as I wittered “You don’t understand. This is the one! It’s the one! The one?!!”
I phoned home at lunchtime to share my good news and the boyfriend understood. I saved it for the weekend and we poured it into two glasses ready to sample.
I didn’t know where my brother had bought it. But I did know he hadn’t been to Sint Sixtus – did that make it wrong to drink it? Would the monks disapprove?
Savouring the flavour
But it was too late by that point. I’d come this far. Think of Tom & Jerry cartoons when the mouse smells the cheese and is uncontrollably lured in – that was me with my glass of Westvleteren 12.
Then a new irrational fear. What if I didn’t like it after years of building it up in my head? “Oh just get on with it!” said the boyfriend, ever the voice of reason, so I did, and it did not disappoint. I’ve probably never taken so long to drink a glass of beer but I wanted to savour every sip.
Did my tasting session help to curb my obsession for Westvleteren 12? Did it heck. It prompted a new years-long obsession for going to West Flanders to buy it directly from the Abbey.