Last Updated on January 12, 2023 by Jeremy
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Westvleteren is a popular Trappist beer producer in Belgium for two particular reasons.
First, it is simply a damn good beer. Westvleteren 12, their Quad, is often ranked as one of the top beers in the world, sometimes called the best beer in the world even, and after tasting our way around popular Trappist Quads during our time in Belgium it was readily apparent that Westvleteren 12 was among the very best. The beer is perfect, and I hesitate to throw around that word with any beer.
Second, it is rare. The brewery is said only to make about 60,000 cases per year and, outside of a cafe next door to the abbey, does not distribute to stores. While you can find these brews sold at incredible markup in major cities, they're often done without the monks' consent.
As such, to get your hands on Westvleteren beer via sanctioned methods, you must jump through some hoops to reserve a case in advance, take a road trip across Belgium, and pick them up directly from Brouwerij de Sint-Sixtusabdij.
And this is exactly what we did.
So in this one, we thought we'd take a look at the steps you need to take to buy Westvleteren beer directly from the abbey, and talk about how we packed up our beers to bring home to the USA. This process is typically fairly straightforward, insofar as your airline actually delivers your bags on schedule, at least.
How Do You Get Westvleteren Beer?
Officially, there is only one way to buy Westvleteren beer, and that is to pre-order cases (24 count) of each style directly from the monks at Brouwerij de Sint-Sixtusabdij and drive out to Westvleteren to pick them up at a set day and time.
- The brewery started piloting a home delivery service in Belgium, but only for those with registered addresses, and with much more limited volumes. The ordering process for this may be different than what is outlined below.
Unofficially, there are two other ways you can acquire Westvleteren beer. The first is by visiting the cafe across the street from the abbey, In de Vrede, and hope that they have some bottles available- often in the form of a multi-pack with branded glasses. This cafe also sells bottles to enjoy on-site as well at reasonable prices, so we highly recommend stopping all the same.
The second is by visiting craft beer stores and bars throughout Belgium and the Netherlands with the hopes of finding a bottle available to go or to enjoy on-site at significantly inflated prices (during our 2022 visit, most 3rd parties that carried Westvleteren sold them at 16-18 Euro per bottle). As noted before, this is often done against the monks' wishes, so you may have some ethical concerns to deal with here, too.
So, what are the steps for ordering Westvleteren for pickup at the abbey? It is actually surprisingly robust and straightforward.
- Sales generally open on Wednesdays with pickup days offered the following Monday to Thursday. Sales do not take place every week but are listed on the Westvleteren calendar which appears to be updated on a rolling, roughly five-week window. Order times typically start around 18h00 local time; however, verify details on the calendar to confirm as this could change.
- We saw some ordering windows where the pickup was two weeks after the ordering date, typically around major holidays. For example, we saw an order window on the last Wednesday of December for pickup two weeks later- skipping over New Year's week.
- Sales are open to registered users only. The website does not accept new user registrations during open order periods, so be sure to have your account registered well in advance. We repeat, you cannot order beer if you do not have an account registered in advance of the ordering window.
- When ordering goes live, you are sent a two-factor authentication code to the phone number listed in your account upon login. Shoppers are then placed in a waiting room and when it is your turn to order you are redirected to a sales page automatically. This can be a long wait, but don't worry- odds are good you'll be able to buy beer.
- Sales are limited to a maximum of four (4) crates of 24 bottles each, with no more than there (3) crates of any given type (Blond, 8, 12). The abbey has other products for sale at this time, and we picked up a lovely rhubarb jam as an add-on.
- Order limits likely change. Angie swears the limit was three (3) crates with no more than (2) of any given type during our visit, but the website showed four and three when writing this article a few weeks later.
- Upon checkout, you must select a pickup day and time from the available timeslots. Generally, there is a morning window and an afternoon window available over several days; however, depending on where you were in the ordering queue some of these may be booked up. As such, if you can be flexible for pickup over a few days, you'll be better off.
- Westvleteren requires a car license plate number for tracking purposes (and to limit total purchases over a calendar year); however, if you are a visitor renting a car you can log into their online portal and add your license plate once you arrive in the country later on. We had no issue doing this.
- Place your order, pay with a credit card, and print out your receipt with QR code for scanning upon pickup. That's it!
When you arrive at the abbey, things are a bit less clear but easy enough to follow. The grounds are completely blocked off for visitors and there is a sign for the designated beer pick-up location, which is on the left-hand side of the compound if facing it directly, just next to the bus stop. There is a small placard featuring the abbey's history that you can read if you are waiting outside the gates, too.
We arrived just before the afternoon timeslots began and weren't sure where to park, but at 13h00 the gate opened and cars, which had now started queuing, were allowed in. (We talked to other drivers and no one knew where we were supposed to go, we simply guessed correctly as the options are quite limited.) Once inside you simply drive around a short road to the pickup location where crates of beer are stacked, scan your QR code, load your beer, and off you go- preferably to grab a brew at In de Vrede next door if you haven't stopped already.
Overall, buying some of the world's most sought-after beer at Westvleteren was, dare we say, incredibly easy. Considering everything was done via phone before the abbey got a website, we'll take this process 100% of the time. The only real issue here is just how remote Westvleteren is, and if you are lucky that sales take place during your visit at all, but alas the pilgrimage element is all a part of the experience!
Packing Westvleteren for a Plane
Now, if you are visiting Europe like us and buy crates of Westvleteren from the abbey, odds are good you're not going to drink 24, 48, or 72 bottles during your stay in Belgium. So what do you do if you want to take Westvleteren home with you after your trip is over?
We found this great guide by Wanderwiles that we followed almost to the letter. While we highly encourage you to read their article as well, as it inspired us, the short answer of it is that we went to a Shurgard storage facility outside of Ghent (they're found all over) and purchased a “medium extra heavy” box plus bubble wrap and other packing material. We wrapped each bottle individually, placed them back in their slots in the crate (quite snug at this point), lined the box with crumpled paper and bubble wrap on all sides to make it as packed as can be, taped it up tight, and off we went.
As quoted in their article, a medium extra heavy box was said to be a perfect fit for the Westvleteren crate, and as of our 2022 visit, we can confirm this is still the case. It is so absurdly perfectly sized that you would think it was made for this one activity. All told, the boxes, bubble wrap, packing tape, and a marker cost us about 35 Euros. (Note: Shurgard only sold paper-backed packing tape which felt flimsy, as visible in the photo above, and we bought conventional plastic packing tape at a separate store later to seal up the boxes properly.)
- Much like in the guide from Wanderwiles, the handles of our boxes also started crumpling pretty easily under the weight when picking them up. I wrapped them many times over with tape to reinforce them. Go overboard on safety tape here! Likewise, write your name/address/phone number on the box in several spots, draw up arrows all over, and get some fragile tape at the airline check-in desk for good measure.
- If you buy cases of different beers, we recommend mixing up bottles in each crate before checking it on a plane as a hedge against an airline losing your luggage. On our return trip, British Airways lost all four of our checked bags due to them not making a connection. One of our Westvleteren boxes arrived two days later, the second was lost for almost two weeks and ultimately made its way to JFK and was re-routed on FedEx for final delivery. But because we mixed our bottles up, the first box had 13 Westvleteren 12s and 11 Westvleteren 8s arrive in perfect condition. Had they lost all of the Westvelteren 12s, I would have been devastated!
- There were zero broken bottles in the box that took almost two weeks to arrive, and we credit our robust packing setup for this. By our count the box was on four flights and was out for delivery on the coldest day of the year for good measure. Wow.
From there, checking on an airplane was a breeze as our box was treated like any other suitcase. The only exception was that we had to take the boxes to the “Odd Sized” drop-off point at our departure airport (Amsterdam) and had to pay a second bag fee as we are not status holders on BA ($90/each), but the process of checking the boxes was as simple as that.
All you can do now is take a deep breath, let go, and hope that the beer Gods bless you with a safe delivery on the other side.
Now, we should take a step back here and make a strong suggestion on how to do this differently than we did. That is to say, make your trip to Westvleteren at the end of your European trip instead of the beginning if the sales window allows if only to keep the beer (and packing boxes) in your rental car for most of the journey. We picked our Westvleteren crates up on day three of ten and had to figure out how to haul nearly 50 pounds of Westvleteren beer, plus all the other beer we bought in Belgium, to and from a train station (as we dropped our car off early), on and off a train, and back to the airport via Uber.
Yes, bad idea. Yes, it was awful. No, I would not do it again. Yes, it was so bad of an idea I'm saying this one more time so it can sink in.
Figuring out logistics to take the boxes and beer on the trains was perhaps the hardest part simply due to having so many bulky materials in our possession already. Do we fully load the boxes and transport four heavy bags onto the train? Do we load the crates and beer in our suitcases and take the boxes on the train flat (and look silly)? How the heck do we manage all that weight, anyway?
As it turns out, we thought loading the cases with beer was a bad idea for carrying purposes. Logistically we decided we would rather have two extremely heavy bags than four equally heavy ones. But it was also impossible to fit all our beer and the Westvleteren crates in our suitcases, so we had a problem there, too.
Ultimately we assembled our Shurgard boxes and put the empty Westvleteren crates in them (plus displaced clothes from our suitcase) to make them light for carrying with one hand and then packed all 48 bottles into our suitcases and rolled them up to the train (plus 12 more Belgian beers, mostly in 750 mL bottles, for good measure).
Our suitcases were bursting at the seams, but this was the only way we could manage the logistics of having all the items while staying within our train's bag limits and be able to walk with them unassisted. It was almost impossible to get luggage storage space for this much luggage on the train, too, but we got quite lucky here and made it work. I would not do this again.
The best case scenario here is simply to have a rental car all the way until departing your final destination. Once the beers are packed in your Shurgard box, simply drive to the airport, drop any travelers with you off at the departure level with your luggage and beer loaded into a push cart, return your car, and then meet them for check-in a short while later. Yes, this requires getting to the airport a bit earlier than you'd otherwise plan, but trust me it will make your life easier than the nonsense we put ourselves through.
So, Is All This Worth it In the End?
Ultimately, you may be wondering two things. First, was this all worth it? Second, what was our final per-bottle price to bring Westvleteren back to the USA? The second question is easier than the first, so let's start there.
We bought 48 bottles of Westvleteren beer directly from the abbey for 126 Euros- or about $135 at the time of our visit in late 2022. This brought the per-bottle price down to about $2.81 which is an absolute steal for those who can enjoy them in Europe without extra transit costs (i.e. those within driving distance of Belgium). Throw on about $40 in packing material and $180 in checked bag fees to bring them back to the USA (which will vary), and you get to $355- or about $7.39 per bottle. Those without checked bag fees are more fortunate here- the average drops to just $3.65 per bottle when accounting for packing materials only.
No matter how you look at it, this is an incredible deal for the “best beer in the world”.
Even at that $7.39 price point, this is still cheaper than most Dubbels and Quads brewed in the USA. Our favorite brewery in Pittsburgh (Strange Roots), which periodically releases Belgian-style brews of excellent quality, typically sells bottles at about $13 after tax. While these are not Trappist, it is a good point of reference when considering price.
So in this respect, it is really hard to ignore just how good of a deal it is to buy Westvleteren in cases at the abbey. Sign me up for this 100% of the time I find myself in Belgium with a car rental, some time to kill, and am lucky enough for it all to occur during a sales window. That being said, not everyone will want to make the effort or buy on volume. So we should consider the cost of Westvleteren on the resale market, as you can also find bottles in beer stores and bars despite resales being frowned upon by the abbey.
We will not get into the ethics of this here, only the financial element. Whether you are okay with buying on secondary is something you must come to terms with.
In most major towns and cities, we found several bars and beer stores selling the Westvleteren brews at around 16-18 Euros ($17-$19) each during our visit in 2022. In this respect, if you don't have to pay shipping fees you can get 48 bottles from Westvleteren for the cost of about 10 on secondary. If you do factor in your shipping fees, you can get 48 bottles from Westvleteren, shipped, for the cost of about 20 on secondary (before shipping).
Yes, there were also the costs needed to rent the car. Yes, there was also the time it took us to get to the abbey to pick up the beer outright. This required an extra night in Ghent to make work, too. One could argue that we would not have had these costs if we did not go to the abbey. In the end, that added at least another $250 plus an entire day of vacation for us, so we can see how the effort to buy this beer over simply buying a re-sale at a convenient bar or beer store may not make sense for most.
If you factor those costs in, minus an intangible cost of a vacation day, we spent upwards of $13 a bottle all-in- or roughly the same cost as our favorite home producer. The same price but, arguably, the best quality anywhere in the world and an even better story to tell? Okay fine, we're still in.
- Clarifications: We did not factor in shipping costs for comparing buying on secondary if only because those who buy limited bottles on secondary likely won't pay shipping fees the way you would with full cases.
- If we did factor in shipping fees here, plus all the extra fees like car rental, an extra night hotel, etc., the math works out that buying from Westvleteren directly let us acquire two cases for the price of one on secondary. So, we got 48 bottles for the cost of 24, roughly.
- Likewise, you cannot guarantee you'll find Westvleteren on secondary just like you cannot guarantee you'll be visiting during a sale window. We personally saw a good number of their beers for sale in Brugges, Brussels, Ghent, and Amsterdam, but we cannot guarantee this availability at all times.
- So, to summarize, if you want less than a case of Westvleteren beer (24 bottles), it may be cheaper, in the long run, to pay secondary prices and deal with the markup. If you want a case or more of Westvleteren beer, or simply to be 100% guaranteed to get bottles, reserving through the abbey lets you get roughly two cases for the same cost of buying one case on secondary when all additional fees are factored in if your situation is anything like ours.
- If you do not have to pay a checked bag fee, the math favors going to the abbey to buy in bulk even more than the above.
But is it really worth it?
To us, the experience of going out to the abbey, picking up the beer, and enjoying lunch and brews at the cafe next door is one we won't forget. Worth it to us? Absolutely. You can never put a price on an experience like that, as random as it may be. Did we need to buy 48 bottles to bring home? Not really. Could we have put that six hours of rental car time to better use elsewhere? Absolutely.
We'll be the first to admit that this is one extreme beer run. In fact, for those who aren't extreme beer nerds like us, we would be torn on whether you should make the trek out at all.
The abbey is not open for tours, you can see very little from the road, and the drive isn't the most scenic of routes out there, either. You're truly driving to Westvleteren to pick up beer cases and, if the timing works, have a brew at the cafe next door (we tried all three, and yes 12 is the best). It'd be a really hard sell to want to spend an entire day driving to Westvleteren without having a minimum of two cases on reserve if we are to be honest- especially since the cafe is not guaranteed to have bottles for sale in the gift shop at all times, either.
If you happen to be nearby, great. Detour to the cafe even if you don't have a case on order. If not, making a special drive without reserved cases is a hard ask.
But if you want to try Westvleteren to see what the fuss is about, pick up a couple in a major town and enjoy it when you come across them. 16-18 Euro is a strong price point, but if this is your only option we would absolutely do it- particularly for Westvleteren 12. If you want a couple of bottles to take home, also consider buying those secondary. Buying in bulk really only makes sense once you are buying at scale; that is to say, a minimum of two cases (48 bottles), especially so if you have checked bag fees like we did.
Overall, we should summarize by saying Westvleteren makes some incredible beer. Westvleteren 12 is most certainly worthy of its reputation as one of the best beers in the world, and although I am a Tripel drinker more than Quads, it was also our favorite of all the popular Trappist Quads by far. Everyone should, without a doubt, try this beer- insofar as you can stomach the ethical concerns of buying via resale, of course.
Do you need to reserve cases, rent a car, drive to Brouwerij de Sint-Sixtusabdij, and deal with all the shipping logistics to enjoy this one in bulk? Eh, not really- insofar as you're lucky enough to find resellers in the cities you visit, at least. But if you are crazy about world-class beer like us and want more than just a handful of bottles to take home (read: > 24), visiting the brewery is by far the best option- assuming your airline actually delivers your package, of course.
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About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.