Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Best Beer in the World at the LCBO? The Pending Arrival of Westvleteren 12

Just what makes Westvleteren 12 so special? Well, really there are two things both tied tightly to those ever-present economic 'laws' of supply and demand.

Part of the demand comes from the fact that this beer is delicious and often rated as the best in the world. See my original review here, though this is a living, bottle conditioned ale of evolving complexity and it will likely seem different the next time around as it matures.  It is, though, assuredly excellent and, if you get the chance to drink it, please do it at cellar temperature (or just above) with a pour into an ideal glass (chalice, goblet, tulip, or snifter ideally, wine glass otherwise) that allows the growth of a full head, and don't pour the yeast sediment from the bottom into the glass (at least at first unless you want to explore the changes the yeast creates afterwards!).

But, really, despite being a solid beer, it is certain that its scarce supply drives up its stature, though this doesn't take away from its delicious sweet complexity.  Normally, procuring a case of this beer - outside of the grey market - means purchasing it from the monastery itself or its associated cafe; it means having called in advance - and lucked into an answer; it means scheduling your pickup date; it means getting whichever of the three beers they are making available the date of your pre-scheduled pickup; it means signing a waiver promising not to resell it; and it means not being able to use the (recorded) license plate or phone number for a certain varied amount of time (2-6 months) for any other purchases at the monastery.  Yes, I am serious.

You see, the monks of St. Sixtus (where Westvleteren 8, 12, and Blonde are brewed) brew beer one day a week.  When asked why they don't step up production, their reply amounted effectively to [paraphrasing here] 'we are in the beer business to sustain our devout life, not to make beer.'

This excellent Belgian strong dark ale normally sells for the very reasonable price of 39 Euros for 24 bottles at the monastery, but grey market cases in Canada (which must be sold by the case by law through private import in Ontario - when even available) sell for $400.

However, the foundational disrepair of the aging monastery is to the (potential) benefit of many a beer drinker!  You see, for a limited time, the monks brewed twice a week to make 163,000 extra 6-packs (plus two special edition glasses) of their beer for what is likely the only time for off-site legitimate sales.  93,000 of those gift packs sold out in hours upon their release in Belgium.  Of the other 70,000 - bound for various markets in North America - between 1400 and 2000 have found their way into a pending LCBO release.

At $75.40 per six-pack, the price isn't cheap, but these beers will age, make for an excellent gift, and are probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Most folks I know who are fans of good beer, but know little about it have probably come closest (and not immensely close) to tasting something similar when drinking a Chimay Grand Reserve ("Chimay Bleu").  If you like that, this bodes well for you!

However, as exciting as this opportunity is, the LCBO neglected to use a lottery system as they did with Sam Adams Utopias and I (and many others) will be remarkably shocked if stocks of this remain in any store through the end of a single day upon the unknown time of their arrival on the shelf.

The exact date of release is unknown - though it could/should be any time within the next two weeks.

Watch for it in their online inventory database if interested - and if you wind up finding a cache before sell-out, please let me know in case my odds fall through!  It'll be your ticket into my pending blind quad tasting that will be complete with Westy!

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