Individual beer brands are subject to the same kind of celebrity as movies stars or pop musicians. Sometimes it can be hard to pin down why, exactly, a particular beer becomes the hottest thing for a season. It could be because of well placed and clever marketing, it could be because a few trusted reviewers at ratebeer.com or beeradvocate.com coincidentally post glowing reviews of a new, rare brand, it could be based on the reputation of the brewer combined with the rarity of the beer. Whatever it is, if the quality of the actual beer in the bottle doesn't hold up to the hype, the beer's celebrity won't survive. Even if it does, eventually a certain weariness with the hype will set in and, good or not, the celebrity will subside.
That's all true except for one beer. Westvleteren Trappist ale has seen the rise and fall of many other beers over the years but it remains the one of the few perennially consist celebrities among beer lovers. One of the main reasons for this is that it is reportedly consistently good beer. I must admit that I've never had the pleasure of tasting it but it continues to receive glowing reviews from professional and amateur beer tasters alike. Due to very limited production, it is one of the most sought after beers in the world.
Part of the mystique of the beer is thanks to the nature of the abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren where it is brewed. The beer is a Trappist ale, making it one of only six in the world. Trappist ales are brewed by Trappist monks and only within their monasteries. This status already sets it apart from the crowd. But, even among Trappists, Westvleteren remains a thing apart. Unlike the others, the monks brewing Westvleteren are not interested in increasing production as the demand for their unique beers soars. In fact, the brewery does not distribute at all. The only way to legitimately buy Westvleteren is to call ahead and make a reservation. The buyer's license plate number will be taken down so his car will be recognized on the day of the sale. Only one case - 24 bottles - is sold per customer every 60 days with the admonition that the beer is not to be resold. The prices, which range from 30 to 39 Euros, are reasonable.
It is clear how quality beer sold in this eccentric manner can create an excited market. The beer's reputation is of consistent quality wrapped up with the mystique of the monastery and rarity makes it a prized score for any beer lover.
So, I hear you say, in order to buy my beer lover this gift I have to fly to Belgium, rent a car, hope that I can get through to the monastery on the phone, then drive there and get this beer? Well, yes, if you want to follow the monks' rules. However, not everyone does. Without taking a position on the morality of this, I can report that there are often a number of bottles of Westvleteren available at auction sites like ebay.com. The prices are marked up quite a lot from the 30 Euros per case from the monastery.
Whether you bend the rules or travel the monastery for this special beer, your beer lover will most certainly appreciate the chance to enjoy this rare, world-famous beer.