The great Westvleteren “best beer in the world” debate…

A lot of “stuff” happened yesterday, and as I lay in bed last night, brain fuelled (distorted) mainly by Buxton “Jawgate” and Colin Stronge Extra Stout, it sort of all came together into this outpouring of thoughts, views and observations, some of which relate to a bit of a red rag to a bull debate and others of things still yet to come..

Image courtesy of CAMRGB

Image courtesy of CAMRGB

It was a quite inoffensive comment on a friends Facebook profile that started this off and linked to the events that fell before it, the comment (and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying so), was written by Simon from CAMRGB and was as follows: “Westvleteren 12. Supposedly the best beer in the world. It Isn’t. It’s just f*ckin hard to get hold of”

Now this isn’t a dig at Simon, we are mates, he knows his stuff and goes on to write a balanced review of the beer itself which you can read here, apart from perhaps slightly falling into the old “best beer in the world” trap again at the end.

That small section though is what gets the hackles up, and being completely fair, Simon is not alone, far from it. For every person I hear that has sampled Westvleteren 12, I probably hear two more that say something along similar lines. “It’s not as good as beer X”, it’s not the best beer in the world”, very expensive for what it is”, “I think St Bernardus Abt is nicer”, “don’t believe the hype”etc. etc. But what most people don’t seem to grasp is that they themselves are the ones that perpetuate those myths, feeding the hype that will keep this beer on it’s perceived marble pedestal.

detail silhouet groenThe Trappist monks that brew this beer have never claimed this beer is the best in the world, they are I believe quite embarrassed by all the fuss it causes it to a degree, although clearly the mystique around it helps them survive. However you’ll see no Rolls Royces driving out of the Abbey gates, all money made is ploughed back into living costs, the monastery upkeep and or goes to charity.

Back in December 2012, BeerPulse posted an audio interview with one of the brothers, it’s half an hour long, but I feel it gives the listener a real insight into what goes on behind those monastery walls:

The Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren’s Brother Joris speaks

In my view there is no secret GRAND MARKETING campaign at work to propel it to stardom (geek-dom). If there was, it’s rubbish, incredibly “slow burn” and surely fatally flawed, as surely the whole idea behind marketing is to make people buy more and more? If you visit the brewery there is no vast loading bay with truckloads of beer leaving the building, there is one man, checking number plates on vehicles as they pull up to his little hut and loading two crates in each, hardly Anheuser-Busch world domination, unless of course they have secretly bought it and the whole thing is an elaborate front.

Of course not all of those daily callers are collecting beer to drink, that same hype feeds a huge black market, but do you really think the Monastery see a penny of the additional revenue made from the often 500% mark up on the original sale price as it filters out to bars and shops across Europe and the rest of the world?

Westvleteren isn’t hard to get hold of either, it just takes a bit of effort. Get on a ferry, train and travel to the abbey and taste it there, sitting in the sunshine.

The first time I did that, it was the best beer in the world, for me, right then, it isn’t now, but that isn’t the point. On my first trip I was so excited to try some, that I had this leering moon-faced grin that I just could not suppress no matter how hard I tried. I love Belgian quads, and in my mind this one was going to be so special. The planning, the journey, the anticipation, the beautiful setting with my wife at my side, even that “hype” fuelled that moment and by god I was going to enjoy it. Last year I had a similar moment drinking Houblon Chouffe in Gent, it’s all relative.

Of course not everyone can make that journey or even want to, but don’t expect to always “get it” if you are drinking it at home or in a bar after shelling out £10 plus a bottle for the privilege.

What I really don’t get most of all though, is why Westie gets singled out so much for criticism just because they limit sales. The St Bernardus connection probably doesn’t help, is it the same, is it different yeast, one is better than the other etcetera.

pliny-the-youngerI wonder for example, if Russian River get the same treatment for Pliny The Younger, surely even more limited in it’s distribution and availability? Similarly much-lauded as the best Double IPA in the world or even as a challenger to Westvleteren’s mighty throne, I am absolutely positive it is amazing. If I ever make it to queue for my half a glass I’m sure too that I will again involuntarily don that ridiculous moon-face, just then in that moment, but it will wear off shortly afterwards and I’ll be back to my usual miserable grimace before I know it.

What I’m trying to say is that there is no best beer in the world, only the best beer in your mind or in the moment you drink it, so if you get your hands on a Westie, Pliny or perhaps a can of SKOL found at the back of the cupboard from 1987, put all comparative thoughts aside and enjoy it for what it is.


Hand Drawn Monkey (meet the brewer part 2)

23385_392659894157041_426088728_n - Version 3So clearly I didn’t do so well at the live blogging malarkey I mentioned on Wednesday, two lines of text and one pretty piss poor photograph, amateur journalism at it’s best? I think not…

To be honest I did try, but was pretty much impossible for a novice. A busy, noisy room full of happy-chatty beer drinkers, brewers talking about the beers, smelling, tasting, laughing and eating, then trying to write all that up live into a phone, crazy, but hey I tried. (and failed)

I suppose that in itself is a testament to how the night went, had it have been a boring sluggish affair I would have had time to write etc, it wasn’t, largely because the organisers at Young Pretender are just so slick at this AND the brewery guys (Rob, Tom and Ol) just kept pushing things along nicely.

In terms of beers we had a mixed bag, starting with “Malpa” as I so enthusiastically reported ‘live” on Wednesday, a pale ale brewed with predominately Polish hops. This was a real quaffer, not massive on flavour but a nice crisp bitterness I liked. I think the next was “Pale Exp 3”, noted as an English Bitter (according to Untappd), hmmm didn’t do much for me I’m afraid, a little thin and not much going on.

399346_374564355966595_452287788_n“What would Jephers Do” (Jephers being the Monkey in HDM), Rye Ale, much better and I tend to love rye beers so err, #winning!

We moved on to the elaborately named “Porter” which was, well, a porter strangely enough. It was also a bit of an unexpected success saved from the jaws of failure too as the guys explained as the hop addition was misread in the recipe by Ol the brewer and upped somewhat. The resulting brew was rather tasty instead of going to feed the fishes as first thought and went down very well on the night all round, a keeper.

STOP!    Collaboration time! (Cue M.C Hammer music)

Dunkel Hopfen-weisse, thank god I had a picture and wasn’t video reviewing, what a mouthful in more ways than one. This was my favourite beer of the evening, it went brilliantly with the bread, cheese and cold meats on the table by this point and benefitted much from a few minutes out of the keg as the flavours really came to the fore as it warmed. Brewed with the guys over at Bitches Brewing, an idea no doubt conceived during a long sampling session at The Grove, a bloody good idea it was too.

IMG_5566I must confess the last proper beer eludes me, when I say proper there were a few more “work in progress” samples to come. I’m sure there was a keg IPA, but can’t say I can remember much about it unless of course I imagined it, which at my age is possible.. (what can I say, there was a lot going on and I’m easily distracted)

Update: I think I did imagine it DOH!

IMG_5569The Hand Drawn Monkey crew I have to say were brilliant, yes they waffled nervously a little at fist, but wouldn’t you? A fledgling brewery with all your wares on show for the first time and an angry mob baying for your blood..(ever so slightly exaggerated) What really showed though, was the thought that had gone into the visit. Yes most brewers bring out a handful of malt grains to chomp on and a few hops to sniff and rub, but they had brought loads to the party and lots of different varieties of both too.


“Hop infusion for you sir?” @tegteggers

Not only that they had prepared a few mystery potions to try, infusions of summit hops boiled in water for 10, 20 and 80 minutes to allow folks to see what effect this had and would have on beer, another batch too with the hop name again eluding my befuddled memory..  I have to add here that I made my own infusion too, it was half a glass of left over “Schneider Weisse Tap 5”, dry hopped with cascade and centennial, murky as hell but a taste explosion, great fun.

The night drew to a close with samples of an IPA in progress but not fully ready, if memory serves a new and improved Monkey Loves Hops which had been given a bit more oomph, t’was very tasty, plus an extremely interesting example of what sounds like is going to be an awesome Kriek straight from the fermenter (via a jar, they couldn’t fit the FV in the car), with more and more cherries to come, marvellous.

To summarise, although not every beer on the night rocked my world so to speak, all showed great promise of things to come and lets not forget this is a brewery in its infancy too. The guys are clearly focussed on pushing the boundaries and not simply in it to make beer, they obviously love what they do. Did I mention that they have a beer shop, no, or that it’s on the way to The Grove? Well they do, so go try some.. Check it out at

As for the guys at the Young Pretender Beer Parlour, I salute you (raises glass, doffs cap and bows as much as the belly will allow), you put on a damn good night out. Brewers, brewery promotional folk and drinks take note.


Back to back Belgians

I come to thinking the other day that I’d become distracted from my Belgian Beer Challenge. Not that I’ve gone short or been abstaining from a drop of the beery stuff, far from it in fact with some fabulous American and Danish beers in London, also a fine array from Kernel and Bristol Beer Factory amongst various others.

All have been great beers but I need to keep on top of the task and decided it was time to start exploring some of the goodies I sourced on the recent trip to Bruges.

The first beer of the night and beer challenge number 55 was Taras Boulba at 4.5%. Which is described as being an “Extra Hoppy Ale” brewed by Brasserie De La Senne. The brewery website also list this as being a blonde but the appearance in my glass at least made it look more like a wheat beer.

Mine poured a murky cloudy yellow with visible sediment freely floating around the glass. As I’d not had one before I can’t be sure whether that was just poor delivery by myself (I thought I’d poured it carefully) or whether that’s just the way it is, either way the appearance did not seem to affect it’s taste.

There’s not a great deal going on aroma wise here, maybe a little yeast and perhaps biscuit. Taste too at first was a little disappointing with it’s “Extra Hoppy” billing certainly sounding a little over optimistic in the current climate of uber hopped beer. Nevertheless it was still a very tasty refreshing brew, with more digestive biscuit and lemony citrus coming across nicely. The finish is very dry and bitter, maybe those extra hops are creeping in after all. It’s a good beer, I can imagine me drinking this on warmer days especially, just watch how you pour it..

For the more inquisitive amongst you who are wondering where the name Taras Boulba comes from or what it means, there is a description from the brewery that features on the Shenton Brothers webpage.

Next up was Bink Blonde from the Kerkom Brewery at 5.5% and beer number 56.

This one is definitely more like a blonde in appearance pouring a slightly hazy but bright yellow, complimented by a thick foamy white head with lovely citrus peel aromas.

Taste is quite full in the mouth, soft mellow malts with lemon, candied dried fruits and peel. The finish is dry and hoppy again but really smooth and without any hint of harshness in the throat.

Another great beer and worth putting on your “to Try” list.

The final beer for tasting tonight took me back to the beers of Brasserie De La Senne with their oddly named (see Shenton link again) Zinnebir, this took the challenge beers to a healthy 57 since Christmas. It’s another blonde ale coming in at 5.5%.

This one pours quite a deep shade of hazy orange topped off again with a thick white foam. It has quite a malty nose with hints of orange peel.

The taste is quite rich for a blonde beer, soft toffee with Seville orange marmalade mingling in the background. It has a real full on juicy mouthfeel that punches generously well above it’s weight.

Zinnebir is a delicious fruity ale and was most definitely the pick of the bunch on the night.

So there we have it, 57 beers done since Christmas is not bad going. I’ve got several more to go at so need to plan ahead, after all its my 60th soon…

P.S You may have noticed that I’ve made a few changes to the blog pages appearance, what do you think, easier on the eye, easy to navigate or better how it was??!/tdtm82/status/78556514071228417!/tdtm82/status/78562352286543872!/tdtm82/status/78566686428643328!/tdtm82/status/78568913822154752!/tdtm82/status/78570671764029440