The Westvleteren hype and madness is now, finally, behind us. If you’re tired of reading, talking, Tweeting and doing whatever else Westy related, feel free to not read this post (or just skip to the bottom for my holiday greeting). I was unsure about whether or not to post anything, mainly because it would be continuing to support the mayhem of last week and I was kind of sick of it myself. But it seemed like some perspective on the Westy frenzy was needed and I thought it would be useful to share my experience.
In many ways, my Westy experience was rather dull. I arrived at the Queens Quay LCBO at about 9:30am last Wednesday, with about 80-90 people in front of me for the 112 or 120 gift packs. (I don’t think the final count was ever known). The line was orderly and well mannered – no one tried to jump in line, no one was saving a spot for a friend. LCBO staff and a security guard came out at one point to redirect the line, but that was all. Most people, like myself, started chatting up the people around them, giving a bit more of a communal feel to the morning. It was like the old days, when people were camped out for concert tickets and you bonded with everyone based on the shared experience of being hardcore nerds about something. (And yes, I am just old enough to remember standing in line for concert tickets, back when I was too young to have a credit card and my parents were scared of online shopping.) There was a nervous tension in the air as we all waited to see if one of the prized gift packs would be ours, but also because of the excitement of it all. Yes, it was stressful in some ways, but also fun in an odd sort of way.
The doors opened promptly at 10am with LCBO employees waiting just inside to hand out a Westy pack to each person as they entered. Being further back in the line, I had the chance to watch people leave after buying the beer and it was the happiest I had ever seen people leaving the LCBO. It was probably the best beer buying experience I’ve ever had in Ontario – the gift pack, a bunch of Nøgne Ø and two barrel aged beers from Cameron’s. Sure, you could find lots to complain about the LCBO, but for a brief while it was an oasis to a starving beer community.
The group was quite mixed – some Bay Street types in suits, a lot of younger beer geeks and some people that I assumed were just there because of the hype. On my bus afterwards was a woman who had traveled from Oshawa and had been outside since 7am, waiting in the cold to buy a Westy pack as a Christmas gift for her husband. (Hopefully he doesn’t read this and get his Christmas spoiled. Or hopefully someone in Oshawa doesn’t start daydreaming about a Westy under the tree after reading this.) It was a novelty more than anything to try a beer that she had heard was the best in the world.
Who knows what she or his husband will think of the beer and I know this irritates some people. But whatever reasons people had to buy the beer doesn’t matter, at least to me. (Unless they were going up on eBay, which is not cool. I’m trading away bottles to people that missed out, but not selling any.) Everyone had as much of a right to buy the beer, whether they were or a beer geek or someone who hadn’t heard of Westvleteren until a couple of weeks ago. I understand why some people are upset about missing out on a Westy pack, but you can’t blame it on the people buying the beer.
The sale of the Westy was not smoothly done, but I’d be fine with that whether or not I had purchased any. (If you were annoyed trying to buy one, imagine the LCBO employees fielding an endless amount of phone calls.) The amazing thing was that for a couple of weeks people were talking about a beer. When you hang out with beer geeks enough, one can forget how many people know very little about beer, but this was a reminder about how much education still needs to be done. I was in Ottawa seeing family last weekend and my brother-in-law (who does not drink at all) was asking me what the deal was with this beer. This relatively obscure beer is now known by a larger percentage of the population, who are also now aware that there are monks in Belgian brewing beer that is different from standard ales and lagers. Who knows how many people will go out and seek new beers because of this or remember anything about Trappist beers, but at least for a little while beer became exciting news for a lot of people. It was a chance to change the greater perception about what beer can be, which can only have positive effects in the long term.
As this is the final post before Christmas, I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Hopefully the holidays are nice to everyone and spent with great company, food and beer. If you’re looking for a turkey pairing, the Beau’s Bog Water is quite nice and easily found throughout the province. Just remember not to drink and drive. My year end roundup post will be up next, likely after Boxing Day.