Thursday, November 25, 2010


Funny thing, Westvleteren. It's a brewery that is somewhat of legend in the US. The beer is not available stateside, and is challenging to get in Belgium. From their website:

Please take into account that you may often get a busy signal when you call to make a reservation, due to the fact that our beer lines are overburdened! You're not the only one who is calling at that moment. Due to our small-scale production, the number of telephone calls is much greater than the number of available reservations. That means it's a matter of having a lot of patience as well as a lot of luck.

In order to allow as many customers as possible to make a reservation, there are several limitations built into the reservation process:

  • Automobiles: reservations are made by license plate number, and the automobile bearing that license plate can pick up an order only once during any calendar month.

  • Telephones:
    - Each specific telephone number can reach the beer phone only once during any calendar month to make a reservation. If that telephone number attempts to call a second time within the same calendar month, the call will be automatically interrupted. There's no sense in calling back if you've already made a reservation within the same calendar month.
    - Anonymous telephone numbers are not accepted.
    - Land phones and cell phones have an equal chance. All telephone zones are treated equally.

There's no sense in trying to contact our beer sales outlet or the brewery - in any way at all - if you don't succeeds in placing a reservation. Any such attempts will receive no response.

Thanks in advance for your understanding and your patience!

I was quite keen to put my hands on some while we were there, but depending on who you talk to, there seems to be some cultural nuance about getting it as a tourist.

My first attempt was at a bar where I saw old bottle crates and asked if it was available. Bartender #1 gave me this confused look and told me how hard it was to get. Bartender #2 said that it might be available but there were things to understand. First, it was important to understand that if they were to have some, it would be old, having come from the brewery a while ago. Second, he wouldn't be able to charge a customer for this beer because he would be taking money away from the Abbey. Simply, he could give a friend at the bar a beer, and if that friend chose to leave a donation for the Abbey, it would be much appreciated. Third, if one were to want a beer, it would need a 20 minute lead time so it could reach an appropriate temperature. And fourth, he asked that if one was to be ordered, that the bar wouldn't be mentioned to friends or written about on the Internet. This to me was something akin to "the first rule of Westvleteren is that you don't talk about Westvleteren. The second rule..."

Being caught off guard by this, I opted to not order. I didn't want to be offensive, or have my motives misconstrued. Simply, I don't believe I understand the ins and outs of what might have been going on. Our counterpart down the bar from New York did opt to order one. We had chatted with him, and from my impression, he wasn't trying to bend any rules or take advantage of anything. I think he was just curious.

But like I said, I wasn't sure, so I opted out.

Up in Brugge, I had been told that I'd find it on the menu at Cambrinus. We did. Three varieties, in fact. I feel that since this establishment has it on the menu with a price (and a high one, at that) I can advertise them. We had the blonde and the dubbel brune 8. According to Wikipedia, this was grey market beer.

They were very good. In retrospect, neither fell into our top two beers, but they were damn good. What drives this international demand? The quality is tops, but this may be one of those instances where reputation grows by lack of supply. Of course, there is no accounting for taste.

Looking back, I'm not sure where I stand on the fact that we had these beers. The brewery opposes the sale outside the Abbey, and we paid a mint for them, so some middle man other than the official cause is making a killing. I can't exactly say that I regret the choice, as I'll most likely not get to have another for a very long time, but I can't exactly say that I feel great about it either.

I certainly feel that The Bar That Shall Remain Nameless honors the intent in a more noble way, even if they have slight ethical flaws, too.

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