I am in one of the best beer countries in the world; I am working at a beer company; I must have the occasional post about beer. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Trappist beers, they are beers that have been made the same way for hundreds of years at Trappist Abbeys. They come in three varieties: dubbel, tripel, and quadrupel. These names seem to imply that they just build on one another like a double IPA is really just a more hardcore IPA. My understanding is that it refers to the number of different grains used in the brewing of the beer. But other than going in order of alcohol concentration, they don’t (to the casual taster) have all that much in common.
More important than that is the relative rarity of these beers. Some of them, like Chimay and Duvel, you can find in Costco in the US. But there are some that you can only get by going to the abbey or finding someone who has gone in your stead. Westvletern is one of these. Like most abbeys, they have all three varieties, and their quad is one of the rarest and most sought after beers there is. It might not be the best — there is much debate around this — but it is definitely hard to try.
My first night here, I just went to the main square and got a gueze. My second night, I went back to my room and crashed from jetlag. Tonight, I looked up what the best beer. bars in Leuven are and picked one. I ended up at De Fiere Margrite. As I walked up, there was a sign out front advertising Westvleteren for 9.90€. I have spent more than $13 on a single drink on several occasions, (and in SF, it is the norm) so I didn’t feel that bad ordering it just this one time. I knew this was a good sign. I walked in, and like a real tourist, walked up to the bar and ordered the Westvleteren 12.
I can’t go on without mentioning the character of this bar. Walking in and looking at around reminds me of a generic pub: wood everywhere, a bit dark and stuffy. On closer inspection, this place has real character: taxidermy foxes, dear heads, and boar heads are on the wall. Filling in the rest of the space are posters from some of the best breweries in the world. Fake hop vines line the corners between the ceiling and wall. On the walls are hung signs that say
Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy
24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case, coincidence? I think not.
Beer will change the world! I don’t know how, but it will.
Beer now cheaper than gas. Drink, don’t drive.
The best part is that every one of these is a wooden sign, not some scrawled poster. In the background plays varieties of (euro?) classic rock. I didn’t really take notice until the guy at the bar who was either the proprietor or a very regular customer started singing along with Freddie Mercury when Another One Bites the Dust came on. A very cool place, to say for certain.
So back to the beer. It came, as all Belgian beers should, in a matching glass. The bottle has no label, but a ridge around the neck that has Trappistbier embossed in it. The taste was not atypical for a quad. The taste started with vanilla up front, not like bourbon vanilla, but a softer, smoother vanilla with a touch of honey. It moved onto some citrus and floral notes, always staying smooth. At the end there is more alcohol bite than I expected.
I probably wouldn’t go after it again. It is delicious, but there are easier to find and less expensive beers that are just as delicious. I am really glad to have tried it. It is the perfect recover beverage after a Wednesday run.
Win, my oft-mentioned dear friend and beer connoisseur without match, told me that I have to try Westvlteren 12, but that Rochefort 10 was his preference (and that is available in the US relatively widely). So, against my better judgement (these beers are >10% ABV), I ordered a Rochefort 10 for comparison’s sake. It is a totally different beer. It is lighter and sweeter up front. Rather than a heavy vanilla and honey, it has a honeysuckle and floral taste up front with a sense of citrus all the way along. It has almost no alcoholic bite.
The only downside of being here is this: there is no one to share it with. I’m having beers with my coworkers tomorrow at a company happy hour, but many of them have families to see at night so can’t go out. That’s not to say I am not enjoying myself, simply that beer is a social drink. Sitting and writing this blog, or reading, or simply people watching can be very satisfying, but it is not the same a sharing a pint with my closest friends. So to those of you that I have shared those beers with over the last years — from Chesapeake, to Raleigh, to Cambridge, to the Bay Area — Cheers! I miss you all.