Discover the Trappists: Westvleteren

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Our ‘Discover the Trappists’ series aims to explore the revered 10 Trappist breweries, located in Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, and the United States. In this, the third article in our series, we are celebrating Westvleteren, one of the world’s most sought-after beers. Brewed by the monks at the Trappist Abbey of Sint Sixtus of Westvleteren, in North West Belgium, the abbey currently only produces three beers. Somewhat surprisingly, considering the reputation and overwhelming demand for these brews, it is not commercially available and only brewed and sold in very small batches. Brewing to live over living to brew For the monks at the Sint Sixtus monastery, religion, monastic tradition and the importance of living a “quiet and modest life” are paramount. Father Abbott explains: “We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.” The abbey is well known for its “strict refusal to increase production beyond the roughly 130,000 gallons they have maintained for more than 60 years,” according to a recent article by the New York Times. As a consequence of this limited production, Westvleteren is incredibly sought after. Acquiring a Westvleteren beer is notoriously difficult. Exclusively sold at the abbey shop, visitors require an appointment and can only purchase enough for personal consumption. But, despite stipulating that the beer should not be resold, illicit sales are rife and the monks of the abbey have to work hard to protect the beer and its small-scale distribution. The three beers The coveted Westvleteren 12, with a yellow cap, is the strongest of the three beers. Introduced in 1940, it is highly regarded in the beer world and regularly wins accolades and titles. The beer has tasting notes of rich dark fruits including plums and berries, with subtle spicy tones. The 12 has a deep mahogany colour and a thick foamy head, and is best left to mature for a number of months or years. Westvleteren 8, with a blue cap, is dark brown with a medium sweetness and bitterness, and not as strong as the 12. The flavours are complex, with caramel, fruits, malt and spice, and some chocolate aromas. Westvleteren Blonde, with a green cap, was introduced in 1999. The lightest of the three, it is the monks table beer. The Blonde is slightly hazy, pale and golden, a marked difference from the 8 and 12. The beer is complex, with strong yeasty flavours, and malt, fruit, spices and a subtle flavour of hops. Interestingly, the beer bottles themselves do not have labels. All the legally required information is printed on the bottle caps. Want to know more? Visit the official website of the Westvleteren brewery here, or read our article: "What is a Trappist Beer?" Have you been lucky enough to try Westvleteren? Leave us your comments below!

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