When planning a trip to Belgium, we always try to include a little venture to the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren, the home of the holy grail beer to so many beer geeks around the world and this recent trip was no different.
We had friends in tow this time around for whom the experience was new and it is an experience without a doubt. Again we were lucky with the weather and arrived in the beer garden of In De Vrede on the most glorious sunny day, and sat down to enjoy the three beers on offer with some Abbey cheese in various forms and had a great time, a new experience for some, a most welcome repeat for myself.
However I left feeling a little bemused at how they are choosing to sell take away beers to visitors. First off, if you are not familiar with how difficult it is to buy this beer in any quantity read here.
I only know of one person to manage this feat of telecommunication able to get a full quota, but for the rest of us, on previous visits you were allowed to buy six bottles of your choice per person.
Now the only option you have is to buy a gift pack at around €24, this includes two Westy blondes, an eight, a twelve and a glass. Not bad you may say, but the blonde is recognised as being the weaker (in style) of the range and I already have a glass which makes this little lot a bit pricey and not something I’d repeat again, not very often anyway.
Clearly this is an effort to reclaim the Westvleteren beer exclusivity, but I think it can only serve to reduce the flow of visitors to the site, be they be either genuine or black marketeer. The Abbey is not close to, well anything really. It’s a proper backwoods operation deep in the Belgian countryside, transport links are absolutely awful and the only way to access is by car or cycling from nearby towns with the obvious alcohol related limitations. I always thought it worth the journey for my few tasters and a six-pack to take away, but with the new regime will I bother to make that trip again, I’m not sure.
The annoying thing is you can get the beer quite openly in many of the bars and shops of Bruges and Brussels if you are prepared to pay upwards of €10 a bottle for it. In The Beer Temple (I think) I even saw the hideously packaged promotional Westvleteren Building Blocks packs for sale at around €85.
It seems obvious to me at least, that the folks supplying the black market aren’t likely to be your average day visitors.
On my last visit we saw one guy make a couple of trips to the Westvleteren beer shop for six bottles and back to his van and you are not telling me that everyone in country who manages to get through to the beer hotline is buying “for personal use”.
Maybe this time around those clever Marketing Monks have out-hyped themselves and drinkers will just stop bothering..
Hi, your post has been very helpful, I just have one question. I am going to Westvleteren in a few weeks, and want to bring the holy grail 12 back with me. The gift pack you spoke of, did you need to pre register to purchase these or where they just purchased on the day? I don’t want to miss out I am so excited to go 🙂 Also did you need to register that you were going to visit or can you just turn up?
Hi Jacinta, so glad you found it useful. Not sure if you noted the link but there was another post from the year before, I’ve dropped it in here just in case:
As to buying beer and packs it seems things vary from day to day, week to week as I know friends that have been since and been able to buy the six packs I first had a couple of years ago. But I’ll answer your question as I know it based on the post above.
The gift packs were available at the gift shop which is open when De Vrede is open. They and plenty of stock and there was no need to reserve them. (it is worth asking if you can buy them separately too, as you can then choose 6 Westie 12’s if you so wish). You can buy other souvenirs too, like wooden crates, cheese, pate etc
In terms of registering your intent to visit, that also is not required, just make sure it is open as they close on the odd holiday/religious day, it’s on the website but you can always email the cafe to be 100% sure if in doubt.
I hope you have a great trip, I’m hoping to go back in July all being well, be great to hear how you get on.
Cheers and good luck.