The Best Beer in the World

While at a Christmas party this weekend, I had the opportunity to sample a bit of Westvleteren 12. If you're not aware of the beer, here's the story in brief: It's Belgian, it's brewed by monks, it has been described as the best beer in the world, and they only sell two 24-bottle crates a month to any given person. And you need to give your license plate number in order to get that one precious shot at the beer, which is in painfully short supply. The monks do not care about the laws of supply and demand, so the price stays reasonable (36 euros for 24 bottles), the demand is sky-high, and there's never enough to go around.

So it was a bit of a pleasant shock when the beer aficionados in attendance at this party immediately -- and gleefully -- began picking out the white-trashiest elements of the beer that they could locate. "Wonder Bread! It's just like Wonder Bread!" one exclaimed. (He hit the nail on the head, as far as I could tell -- the stuff had a hard-to-place gentle fluffiness that was pleasantly evocative of cheap sandwich bread.)

"Tootsie Rolls; a definite Tootsie Roll note to this," someone else said. OK, fair enough. "Sun-Maid raisins -- old ones, a little box that you've forgotten for six months." "Grape drink!" someone else explained. Not Welch's grape soda, mind you, generic grape drink.

This wasn't to say that people were ragging on the beer; the general consensus was that the stuff was delicious. But the immediate rush to run downmarket with the adjectives struck me as something that sets hardcore beer people apart from their wine counterparts. Given the opportunity to sample some of the best beer in the world, the crowd turned the experience into a collective joke, a raucous jam session, a tongue-in-cheek sport directed at the almost holy beverage we were lucky enough to sample.

It's hard to say whether I'd describe Westvleteren 12 as the best beer I've ever had. But it's definitely in the top five, as much for the experience as the actual flavor.

Another other nominations for the Best Beer in the World?

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