your Great Lakes Christmas Ale, your Highland Cold Mountain. And then there's Westvleteren, standing on the mountaintop, looking down on them all, the great guru that must be sought out by climbing to the craggy peak.
Westvleteren is produced by the Trappist Monks of the Abbey of St. Sixtus, somewhere out in the sticks in Belgium. In keeping with their monkly values, they are not in the business of brewing beer. They are in the business of being monks: wearing itchy clothes, praying, scourging themselves with thorny bouquets of reeds, shaving their heads, being celibate, growing beards, praying some more, being silent, fasting, renouncing worldly possessions, burning incense, praying again, chanting, practicing their Kung-fu, etc, etc. Whoops, maybe not the Kung-fu. Sorry, wrong monks.
Anyway, in addition to gardens and orchards, the monks also operate a brewery. The beer is primarily for their own consumption (and who can blame them? Did you read the preceding paragraph?), but they do sell some to the public to fund the abbey, and to purchase things that they cannot produce themselves. However, that's the catch: they only sell it direct from the gates of the abbey, or in a shop/cafe across the street. I was speaking with a gentleman who lived in Belgium about it, and he told me that the monks (if they are in the mood to pick up the phone) will arrange an appointment with you, take the license plate number of your car and sell you ONE case of their beer, making you promise not to resell it.
And herein is the very reason this beer is so highly coveted and sought after. It IS made in a true artisanal fashion, monks (probably) say prayers over it, and you can't get it with out going on a quest. How positively Catholic!
I knew this beer was going to be a big deal, but I really didn't realize quite how big a deal it was going to be. I honestly though that the high price would temper most people's enthusiasm. Yesterday, when our store opened, we had 96 of these 6 packs, or bricks, as some people are calling them. We were sold out by 3:30 PM. When the store opened, we had 10 people lined up outside, waiting to get it. I arrived at work 5 minutes early, and when I saw the madness, I realized that if I wanted to find out what it was all about, I had better strike quick, so I whipped out my Visa, and took the plunge. $91.15. For a six pack of beer. And not even 12 oz beers, at that. NO employee discount. THAT is DEFINITELY a first for me.
All afternoon and evening the phone was ringing off the hook, and dissapointed customers were distraught to find that we were sold out by the time they were off work and able to get to our store. I had one woman on the verge of tears. I later learned that this was quite a newsworthy event; one woman told me this story popped up in her Yahoo! news feed yesterday morning, and another told me it was the subject of an NPR story. Some customers were buying it for friends in other states. Some had driven great distances to get it.
A look at Google today tells me that these beers are already finding their way onto Ebay, and at insanely high prices. Rest assured, I won't be doing anything like that. And more importantly, I would exhort any such unscrupulous profiteers to remember that the monks would not want you to do that either. Whatever religion you are, even if you are a worshipper of money, show some respect to the men of God, and be conscious of their wishes.
Anyway. Now that the beer is in my possession, you can expect a review to follow in the foreseeable future. I owe two bottles to my coworkers who agreed to go in on a pack with me, but now that I have The Precioussss, their cut goes down from an equal third to a sixth each. Hell, I put up the cash to buy it. Isn't that the Golden Rule? "He who has the gold, makes the rules?"
I'll stop gloating now. My sincere condolences to those of you who didn't get to purchase a pack. You can always take a trip to Belgium and get some from the Abbey.