The Westvleteren 12 is currently ranked #1 on both beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com. But wait — before you rush out to BevMo for a six-pack, let me just say that you will not find it there, or any other store for that matter. The beer is only made in Belgium at the Westvleteren Brewery (Brouwerij Westvleteren), near the town of Poperinge, in the municipality of Westvleteren.
Along with the Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap), a 10.2% ABV quadrupel introduced in 1940, the brewery has two others, which are also highly rated. The Westvleteren Blonde (green cap), a 5.8% ABV pale ale introduced in 1999, and the Westvleteren 8 (blue cap), an 8% ABV Dubbel. All bottles have been sold without labels since 1945, so all legally required info is written on the tops. They are also the only beer which do not have the Trappist logo displayed on the bottle — instead, they are printed on the wooden crates.
The brewing at Westvleteren started in 1838, and is the only one to retain the copper vessels through the wars. It is also the only brewery where all the brewing is done by monks — five monks run the brewery, and an additional five assist during bottling.
Like all other Trappist breweries, the beer is sold to support the monastery, and does not exist for profit motives. The monks have stated they will only brew enough beer to run the monastery, regardless of demand. During WWII, the brewery stopped supplying wholesalers, and only sell to individual buyers.
Originally, buyers were limited to ten 24-bottle creates of beer per car, but after increased popularity, the limit has been reduced to two or three cases, depending on the variety. The yearly production is 4750 hL, which is 125400 gallons, according to my calculations, and there is no plan to increase it.
The only way you can acquire this legally is by visiting the monastery in person, or at the abbey-owned inn In de Vrede. Or, you can choose to buy it online via the grey market — ebay currently has an auction for a case sold by someone residing in Belgium.
I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one after my friend Bill and I met at BJ’s for our occasional beer get-together, and gave me a bottle that he managed to find somewhere. I’ve not had it yet, and am waiting for a special occasion — perhaps I’ll accompany it with a Cohiba Siglo VI.