During our weekend in Brussels we missed out on some sites like Cantillon Brewery, but we managed to hit Bier Circus before it closed Saturday night. The food was pretty good, but it was the beer selection we came for. We poured through their beer menu and had some lovely selections over the course of the meal and evening. While their regular menu is impressive enough, we also paid a god awful sum to try an off menu choice, Westvleteren 12.
That name doesn’t mean much to most people. Westvleteren is one of only seven Trappist breweries in the world. The others you may recognize – Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel, and Koningshoeven (aka La Trappe). All are well known for their excellent beer. The critical difference with Westvleteren is that unlike the other monasteries, it has no interest in producing commercial quantities of beer. Westvleteren only brews enough beer to cover monastery costs, no more, regardless of demand. People have to call in to the abbey in advance to make a reservation on a particular day to pickup a case of beer (and no more than a case). Given the rarity of the beer, it has produced a bit of an obsession in the beer world and has consistently ranked one of, if not the best, beer in the world.
The “best” just seems silly to me. Ranking is such a strange concept when applied to intangibles and variances. A prime example is travel. When someone asks me “what has been your favorite place to travel to”, I honestly don’t have an answer. I’ve love to return to any of them; each brought a difference experience to the table. I feel the same way about *the best* food or drink.
Is the Westvleteren 12 an excellent beer? Definitely. The best? It doesn’t matter. I’m just as happy with a St. Bernardus Abt 12 or Trappistes Rochefort 10. Perhaps that’s for the best. Scarcity and expense have an impact on our perception of how much we think we will like something. But research shows it doesn’t work out that way – we frequently like the cheaper stuff better.