The Brothers Beer Blog

Posted by Steve B on 12/18/2004 11:30 AMThere are certain beers which [sic] I have always thought should never be exported to the States, Westvleteren amongst them. (Spezial in Bamberg is another, but that’s a different thread altogether.) The monks are right — there’s something particularly wonderful about experiencing these beers in situ, something that could never be duplicated anywhere else.Of course, I say and write things like this and then remember that I am one of the lucky ones, fortunate enough to be able to travel to Belgium regularly. So I would deny those who cannot for one reason or another get overseas? That’s where I become of two minds on the subject. An ale like Westvleteren has the power to change the way someone thinks about beer, regardless of where it’s enjoyed. Yet the full impact can only be felt, I believe, in Belgium, preferably at the In de Vrede.

It’s a tricky balance, juggling the impact of such an ale with the authenticity of the beer experience, not to mention the wishes of the monks and the ‘Holy Grail’ status — if you’ll all pardon the pun — that some beers develop simply because of their relative rarity — which is not to imply that this is the case with Westvleteren, but I think we all can think of some beers which [sic] fall into this last class.

So what do you all think, particularly you American bloggers? I’m grasping for input here.


Posted by Doting Husband and Dad on 12/19/2004 12:28 PM

It really hurts to admit it, but Steve is right here. People shouldn’t be importing beers into the U.S. from anyplace in Europe that’s really cool. Let’s face it, just from the pictures you can tell that almost everyplace in Europe is more cool than almost anyplace here. (Here, in my case, is Ohio.) I don’t want to mess up my palate with a beer that doesn’t taste right, which means (a) with the right glass; (b) at the right temperature IN CENTIGRADE!; and (c) with a big monastery across the street.

To avoid making a fool of myself, I’m going to toss out the three bottles of Westrvelveteen I bought earlier this year. It hurts like hell to know that I’ll never taste this beer, or at least, not for a very long time. (It sounds really good, Steve!) But I’ve got two kids, age two and four, and a wife who understands my love of beer but has limits. Even if I could afford to fly over to Belgium and rent a car myself, I couldn’t afford to bring the kids and the wife, and she’s not going to let me go without her, let me tell you. I don’t know, maybe when I retire. In the meantime, thank God there are “lucky” childless guys like Steve (What’s the matter, Steve, firing blanks? Just kidding! : ) to keep me informed. But I need to know more. How does this stuff taste??!! I’m salivating over here. Is there anything that’s kind of like Westvlteren (the stuff that you drink at the monastery, not that other crap you get!) that I can buy here to get some kind of idea how it tastes?

Steve, I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m bitter or anything because you go over to Belgium all the time and I’m not able to go over there myself right now. We all make choices in life, and I chose to do just what I’m doing, and I’m happy. (Well, more or less. Both of the kids were “accidents,” so to speak, and if it hadn’t been for that first “accidental” bundle of joy, I probably wouldn’t have gotten married at all. But I swear I wouldn’t change a thing now. As far as I’m concerned, I’m the “lucky” guy here!) So I guess I can’t complain that I have to leave all the trips to Belgium and the Werstveleren to guys like you who have trouble forming lasting relationships with women. Just kidding again! : ) I love what you write.

Who I am pissed off at is the importer for putting this complete crap out in the market in the first place. How is anyone supposed to know that you can only drink it at the monastery? It doesn’t say that on the bottle. I never even heard of Inde Veeder before now. The importer ought to tell you things like that.

I don’t blame the monks at Westvelvetrn either, by the way. All of us beer lovers are just lucky that they sell their beer in bottles anyway. People shouldn’t be abusing the goodwill of the monks by buying those bottles and taking them away from the monastery to drink them.

Keep up the good work, Steve. Hey, when are you gonna get a real job? : ) You know I like kidding you.

Posted by Beer Geek 3,948 on 12/20/2004 09:14 AM

Amen to that, Steve B! I’ve never been to Belgium myself, but I’d like to. I’ve had Westvelreteven myself a few times here, but I always thought it’s ok, but what’s the big deal all about? I’m not saying it’s not worth drinking, but I’m not going to go around saying that this is one of the great beers in the world until I’ve had it at the abbey, as you point out. I have a feeling that a lot of the other Belgium beers I’ve had here aren’t so good either.

It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of having a beer in or around the brewery, or someplace like it. For example: I’ve had plenty of Dogfish Head beers, and always thought they were OK. But a few months ago I ended up staying at a motel in a town called New Castle, Delaware which is not far off of I-95, in Delaware. You can bet I was pretty psyched to find a six-pack of Immort Ale in just a normal package store, not some boutique with a bunch of rare beers from Europe, etc.! I bought it for too much money, but I was happy, and I drank the whole six-pack back at the room, on a balcony looking over the pool, with a box of Triscuits and some cheddar cheese (Cracker Barrel, Medium Sharp). I’m not saying that I was at the brewery, but I was in Delaware, pretty close to the brewery, since it’s a small state, and the atmosphere was about the same.

After a couple of bottles, I swear that I could almost feel like Sam Cagilione was right there with me. I felt like I understood what he was going for with this beer. It was almost spooky. By the time I finished the sixer, I felt like I was actually talking to the Spirit of Sam, who told me to drive over to the package store to get a sixer of something else from Dogfish Head. (He also told me to kill my parents, but I knew he was kidding. You know Sam personally, right?) All I can tell you is, that beer never tasted so good until that time. I still think it’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had. The experience was effin’ ineffable! And the difference was the PLACE where I drank it. How do I know? Well, after I bought that other six-pack, which was the 90-Minute, I fell asleep on the balcony. When I woke up it was dark and pretty late, and I didn’t feel like drinking the 90-Minute. So I brought it home with me. I drank it a week or two later, and of course it just wasn’t as good as the Immo. I’m absolutely positive that’s just because I wasn’t in Delaware at the time. The same thing is true in Belgium, no doubt.

Steve: I love your site. Any plans to make it interactive?

Posted by Br. Buddy on 12/20/2004 12:34 PM

I introduce myself, Brother Buddy, of the Abdij of Sint Sixtus. I cannot agree with Mr Stephen B about drinking the Westvleteren beer at In de Vrede. IMHO, the only way to drink Westvleteren beer is to be a monk, living in the Abbey, with the beer poured directly from the fermentation vessel into the cupped hands, as we do it here. Perhaps the In de Vrede is close by to the Abbey, but it is too far for drinking the Abbey beer in the correct way.

My best Westvleteren experience? It was seven years ago. At that time I had not spoken to anyone or had sex with a woman for more than twelve years since coming to the Abbey, and I was perhaps ready to cut loose. In the morning I was already happy because I had received from the Abbot a Special Commendation for Excellent Penmanship. In the period of five minutes between Afternoon Prayer and Evening Prayer, I went to the brewery to take a small dispensation from the tank of Westvleteren 12æ, which was just then finishing its sixth week. For the first time, I was able to walk quickly back to my chamber without allowing even a single drop to fall between my fingers. No beer has ever tasted so good to me as that one did that day. It was the taste of success.

I was not in the Abbey when the decision was made many years ago to put the beers into bottles, but if I had been there, I would have tried to stop it. The beer is simply not as good that way. And worse, putting the beer into bottles made it possible for others to take the beer out of the Abbey and drink it in other places, some of them unsavory. If it were only taken so far as In de Vrede, I would still be unhappy, but it would not be the worst thing. But I have heard that people are buying the bottles at the gate of the Abbey and taking them to Brussel, and even, for example, to Luxembourg. I do not think that the Abbot should allow this commercial traffic in the Abbey’s beers. Brother Sparky agrees with me on this matter, and together we have approached the Abbot about putting a stop to this activity. We have especially asked that all sale of the beers for consumption in Luxembourg should cease. Perhaps you are not familiar with Luxembourg, but I can tell you that I am certain that if the Saviour were here now – and of course He is here; his spirit is always with us, especially in the Abbey; but I mean if he were physically here, maybe taking a bus tour of the Benelux countries – I am certain that he would not like Luxembourg. It is very secular, and, quite simply, not very attractive and maybe even a little bit tacky. So far, the Abbot has not heeded our call.

I ask, Mr Stephen B, why you are commending the consumption of the Westveleteren beers at In de Vrede, when it is not the best way of drinking the beer? I suggest that perhaps you should be more like Mr Chuck, who is always very polite when he comes here and never says anything that is not positive about the Abbey. When I read Mr Chuck’s writing about the Abbey, I have the same positive and warm feeling that I had when, as a boy, I snuggled in bed reading my favorite story, The Fluffy White Bunny. Perhaps you, Mr Stephen B, should learn something and be less critical. Thank you for hearing me. I apologize for my English, which is not the best. Also, <>. What is that?

Posted by Josef K on 12/19/2004 14:02 PM

Can anyone tell me what a bottle of Westy costs in Luxemburg? I just paid $12 for a bottle in New Jersey — fucking importers! — but I’ll send it back if I can get some cheaper.

Posted by Robert Parker on 12/19/2004 14:39 PM

Yes, that’s right. The Robert Parker. Everyone’s favorite wine critic. This is my first time on the BBB. I just want to say ‘Kudos!’ to Steve B for having the cojones to say what I’ve known but been afraid to say for decades, ever since I started in the lucrative wine-writing racket. Those sorry-assed plonkers who read all my reviews and ratings — and who doesn’t read them these days?! — haven’t got a clue. Most of them have never been to any of the vineyards in Bordeaux, par exemple, and certainly never had the ‘special treatment’ that I have come to expect as a wine writer who wields almost god-like power in this industry. Those French vintners really kiss my butt, I’ll tell you. I hate to say it, but IMHO you don’t really know what a wine tastes like unless you’re sitting right there at the vineyard amid the green hills on a crisp, clear September day, with the golden afternoon sun shining on your well-coifed head and the soft mustache of a French vineyard owner tickling the fleshy parts of your bare behind. I am sure, Steve, that you know what I’m talking about.

So what I’m thinking is, why not admit the obvious – better yet, why not introduce this all-important element of “being there” into the wine-rating system that, well, frankly, has made me rich, but is getting a little tired? What I propose is a system of ratings geared to a sort-of geographical and socio-political index. For example, I gave the ’98 Chateau de Fouille-Merde a 94-point rating. But that 94 is really only good if you’re sipping the stuff right there at the ole grape-farm, with a very attentive Monsieur Fouille standing nervously off to the side, ready to run off for more Brie at the merest glance from you, and an attractive French ‘guide,’ blonde and bereted – whose only official function is to make sure you don’t get too lost on the winding little roads of the Côte du Cul — seated immediately to your left.

Now let’s say instead that you pop the cork out of that very same bottle of wine, but you live in a two-bedroom ranchhouse in Montclair, New Jersey, and you’re just sitting down to a dinner of Kraft macaroni-and-cheese (C’est formidable!), alone, because your wife got sick of your shit and left two months ago. In those circumstances, I’d give that ’98 Fouille-Merde a mere 81 points. Now imagine that you live in a trailer park in Enterprise, Alabama, with a wife and four barefoot toddlers, you only wish you could afford Kraft macaroni-and-cheese and other fancy big-city grub that the rich folks over in Mobile can eat every day, and far from having a well-coifed head, you’re completely bald. In that case, you shouldn’t even read wine reviews, because it will only make you feel real bad. In fact, if I were you, I’d kill myself.

These are only examples, but you get the idea, I’m sure. The ratings could be adjusted according to where the drinker is located, and perhaps even broken down along other parameters as well. This will mean a lot more work for me (at first), but when it’s done, the result will be an even fatter – and more expensive – guide to Fine Wine with my name on it. To be honest, I was kinda running out of things to write about, anyway.

You know, I’ve been searching for years for a way to get people to appreciate wine in the same way that they appreciate beer. (Why do people always think that beer is somehow classier?) Thanks to the inestimable Steve B, I believe I’ve got it! Chapeau’s off to you, Steve.

Posted by Arthur on 12/19/2004 16:19 PM

Oh my God! Robert, thanks for coming on the BBB. It’s a thrill. I’m excited. Have you ever tried a beer?

Quick: What are your top ten wines that taste like beers, and that include at least part of the names of famous bands in their names? Here’s my list:

Marilyn Merlot (Marilyn Manson)

That’s all I can think of right now. I’d love to see your list.


Posted by Rebel on 12/19/2004 16:42 PM

I personally don’t think that Marilyn Manson rocks at all. They’re just another case of ‘playing makeup and wearing guitar.’ In other words, a pretty package, and a lot of loud noise and perfume, with no substance. Beer that reminds me of Marilyn Manson: Deus. I don’t know how anyone could argue with that, and if anyone does, I’m going to post again and go for the jugular this time.

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