Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Hermes Birkin Bag of Beer

Our first night in Brussels, TLS and I went to find a bar close to our hotel and La Grande Place to have a few drinks in. I am not a beer drinker by any means, but I adore all of the Belgian fruit beers, so my only requirement was that it have an extensive fruit beer list. We founds such a place with outdoor seating, and sat down. Unlike me, TLS is a huge beer fan, and was excited to try some more Belgian beers. All of the beers ranged in price from 1,70-6,00€, and there was one outlier that cost 12€. Thinking it either had to be a typo, or a jeroboam of beer instead of just your normal glass, we asked the waiter about it. He told us "it's the best beer in the world, but I'm out of it for the month." This, of course, made us even more curious and made TLS want it even more. When we got back to our hotel room, we did a Google search for it.

The beer in question is called Westvleteren. It is made by Trappist monks in Belgium. They make only what they need, and no more. If you want to buy the beer, you need to order it directly from the abbey. They have a phone number that you call, and you have to give them your license plate number. Each person is allowed to buy one case of beer/license plate/month. You need to order the beer two months in advance. Once you have called for the month, the system will recognize your number and will block it from getting through again for the end of the month. The beer comes in bottles without labels and it is against the monk's wishes to resell the beer. If you do that, you can lose all of your ordering privileges. This makes it surprising that the bar would put it on their menu. I guess it doesn't get many Trappist monks as visitors. Since 2002, it has been ranked as the best beer in the world, giving it even more of a cult following.

Our second night in Belgium, I decided to be coy and just walk into one of the beer shops and try to order the Hermes Birkin Bag of Beer and see what the proprietor would say. This is when being a girl helped. The proprietor told me that because of the high demand but low supply, it is very expensive for stores to carry the beer, so it is actually illegal in Belgium to sell Westvleteren if you are able to get your hands on some. He did tell me that another one of the beer shops in Brussels does sell it illegally.* At this point, TLS was overjoyed at my cleverness and you would have thought that Hannukah came early.

The next day, we made a pilgrimage to the anonymous beer store. After loading up two bags with two dozen beers, at the cash register I once again very sweetly mentioned that there was a great beer I had heard about that I just needed to try, I could not remember the name, if was Westvsomething or other, would they by any chance carry it? The woman at the cash register told me that they did carry it, and from a locked cabinet behind the register, produced three unmarked bottles of beer, one of each of their varieties. We asked to purchase one of each. The cost, 7,95€, or $10.25 in today's prices. That's right, we paid over $30 for just three bottles of beer. I have to say that I felt a bit like I was in the Prohibition era walking down the streets of Brussels carrying three unmarked bottles of illegal beer in my hand.
Last night, TLS drank the first of the three Westvleterens, the blond one. He said that it could best be described as a religious experience. I am not a beer fan by any means, but I had a few sips of his beer and I have to say that it was pretty darn good. We are now trying to get on the monks' waiting list. Which is words that I never thought my Jewish mouth would say.

*For confidentiality reasons, I will not post the name of it on my blog. However, if you are planning on going to Belgium and would like to try some, you can email me and I will give you the name of the shop.


  1. That is a fabulous story! And the next time I'm in Brussels (LOL) I'll be sure to give you a ring for the name of the bootleg beer store!

  2. Hi, hope it's OK to contact you here. We would love to include your blog on our giveaway search engine: Giveaway Scout (http://www.giveawayscout.com). Have a look and if interested, use our online form to add your blog (http://www.giveawayscout.com/addblog/ ). thanks, Josh

  3. What an interesting story! Glad the beer lived up to the hype and expense.

  4. What an interesting story! Great that you found what you were looking for!

  5. LOL! Who knew that beer could be sold illegally! Love that you discovered a secret stash. what happens if you live in a city and don't have a license plate???

  6. I'm so glad you found it! And thank you for sharing. My BF loves trying new beers and I certainly think it would be a great surprise for him if I could get him the greatest beer in the world. If you have the ordering information could you please email it to me at laurasahlender@gmail.com? Thanks and enjoy!