If you love a well-crafted beer, you’ve probably already heard of Westvleteren 12. Many industry experts swear it’s the best version in the world, which, combined with its exclusivity, have made this beer a virtual legend. However, you may not know the history behind Westvleteren 12.
The Saint-Sixtus Abbey
Westvleteren 12 is brewed by Trappist monks at the Saint-Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, West Flanders, Belgium. Many Trappist orders brew beer—all of which are also held in high regard—but those at Saint-Sixtus are the only ones to do so without any help from the outside world. While they use the latest in technology and a few secular assistants for manual labor, only the brothers handle the brewing.
The abbey was originally erected back in 1260. However, it would eventually be abandoned until 1831, when the Trappists of the abbey of Saint Sixtus would become headquartered there. 40 years later, Pope Pius IX would grant it official abbey status and confirm the order as well.
In 1940, the abbey began brewing Westvleteren 12. Since 1945, the beer has been bottled without a label. Only the bottle cap is used to cover the legal requirements of providing information about Westvleteren 12. The recipe, however, has been in the works since 1831, when the abbey first got started.
A big year for Westvleteren 12 came in 2005 when the beer was voted the best in the world by RateBeer.com. Its reputation skyrocketed overnight and the single road the abbey is located on had to be temporarily made into a one-way to handle all the traffic. Since then, the beer has received numerous other awards, forcing the abbey to adjust how they sell it. Nonetheless, despite demand, the monks refuse to produce more than is necessary.
For the most part, the monks have kept to their promise of only selling Westvleteren 12 from their abbey and under strict guidelines. This was changed only once, in 2012, when the monastery needed a new roof and other renovations. Knowing the worldwide demand for their product, Westvleteren 12 was sold across Europe and North America. Most notably, 15,000 cases were made available in the United States. Sold in a special six-pack that kept out any light and came with two specialty glasses (the price was $84.99), the entire 15,000 were said to be sold out within the first week.
A spokesman for the Westvleteren Brewery said he believed this type of sale would never be conducted again.
Westvleteren 12 is still considered one of the best beers in the world, as well as one of the rarest. Many also consider it a national treasure of Belgian. While the country originally experienced a boon for their beers back in the early 1900s because of its high alcohol content and taste, today beers like Westvleteren 12 continue to boost Belgium’s style for their undeniable craftsmanship and reputation.
For the best beer you’ve ever had, it’s worth trying to get your hands on a bottle of Westvleteren 12.