Although drinking alcohol is against my faith as a Baha’i — and besides, I was never much of a drinker anyway — there’s no point to living in Belgium if one doesn’t try the world famous beers. Hence, I sample, usually just a few sips, occasionally a full bottle. The Flemings’ enthusiasm for beer is intoxicating to experience and they have a good laugh at my lack of skill in “proper pouring”.
My roster of Belgian beers so far is perhaps not that impressive. A few Chimays, a Duvel or two, too many Hoegaardens (I’m not a fan) and Stella Artois (even less of a fan), a nauseatingly sweet Kasteel, and a few Westmalles (delicious). Well, tonight I had the privilege to drink an entire Westvleteren 12, which is renowned as the world’s best beer.
The bottle was a gift from my friend Johannes, whose family frequents the Trappist monastery where the brand is produced. My Flemish friends gathered around me in veritable awe; few of them had ever tasted it. You see, the monks have a very strict policy: one must apply to receive the beers; if approved, a late night phone call provides detailed instructions to retrieve the bottles from the abbey. The entire process is tightly controlled to guard against smuggling and to protect the monks’ vows of silence.
Johannes’ gift, then, was a real token of friendship and something of an honor, the Flemish equivalent to, say, receiving a battle-tested dagger from a Bedouin. Not only was my palate inspired, but my heart was moved. And Baha’u’llah forgive me, but it was amazing.
The Westvleteren 12 has a very subtle array of flavors and textures. I’m no connoisseur but what stood out was a particularly delicate caramel. This is actually a flavor common among the really dark Trappist beers but with the Westvleteren 12 one can taste the silence, serenity, and care that goes into the brewing process. This probably comes from the assurance that, because the monks only produce as much as is needed to finance their abbey, the beer’s purpose is ultimately spiritual.
I concede that such a notion might be ironic in the eyes of many, but I remind such readers that Jesus was the life of many an ancient Judean party and that alcohol flows plentifully in the posthumous promises of the Qur’an. Oh, and for those readers who don’t know, the 12 signifies the percentage of alcohol — so yes, I’m sufficiently drunk while writing this post. Chalk it up to my inexperienced liver as well as to the might of this divine beer. Were I to die tonight and go to heaven, I wouldn’t be surprised if I discovered that God is actually a Trappist monk brewing the universe into being.