Excellent article in The New York Times last weekend about that beer nirvana known as Belgium. Here's a little taste:
ON a fog-dense spring afternoon in the Belgian countryside beer connoisseurs had flocked to Westvleteren, a far-flung town in the southwest corner of West Flanders, to sample what many of them consider to be the best beer in the world. The nectar in question was Westvleteren 12, a rich, brown-hued brew that has double the alcohol of most beers and a reputation to match, and that can be bought only at the In De Vrede cafe and across the street at the St. Sixtus Abbey. Cyclists in Spandex clattered about in cleats as Belgian families quietly nibbled on cheese plates and pâté. The only party missing was the monks who brewed the hallowed beer.
Nestled in this province’s verdant farmlands, the St. Sixtus Abbey houses one of six official Trappist breweries in Belgium. The monks have perfected their craft over more than 160 years, and despite closing the brewery to visitors, shunning advertising, retail outlets and even labels, their beer has taken top honors from enthusiast sites like RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com. (The only sure way to bring home the brew — save the black market — is by calling the Abbey’s “beerphone” to reserve a case for pick-up. And even then the monks will supply only one case a person, a month; no resales allowed.)
You can read the rest of the piece here.
The video is from Jonathan Meades's early film on Belgium. Meades is a fan of the country and of its beers. The beer bit begins at 2.20.
Every year around Christmas time I treat myself to a four pack of Westvleteren. I do not go to Belgium, instead, I, er, use the black market referred to in the article. I don't feel good about this and I appreciate that this is not what the monks want, however Westvleteren is as good as everyone says it is and, uhm, well, it is Christmas.