Photo: Beer Scout
Photo: Beer Scout

Westvleteren 12 (XII) is the rarest beer in the world.

Did we ruin the surprise? Should we have built up with anticipation? Perhaps we could have baited you. We could have made you read this whole article before giving away all of beer’s greatest secrets.

But, the truth? It’s not so much of a secret anymore that beer fanatics and critics alike consider Westvleteren 12 one of the world’s rarest and most sought after beers.

What is Westvleteren 12?

Brewed by The Trappist monks of the St. Sixtus abbey at The Brouwerij De Sint-Sixtusabdij in Vleteren, Belgium in such small quantities this Belgan Quadrupel ale rose to rare fandom on the sheer dearth of production.

The monks brew Westie 12, as it’s affectionately known in the industry, once a week as a way to make money for their abbey. Sold only once a month either at the door of the monastery or a no-nonsense tavern across the street. Westie 12 vaulted to the top of any craft beer connoisseur’s bucket list simply because of the laundry list of steps and dash of luck you’d need to try a sip from these unmarked bottles. First, you’ll have to call a hotline to make an appointment just to purchase the beer. Afterward, you’ll (most likely) need to buy a plane ticket, fly to Belgium, rent a car, drive to a tiny town, and line up in your car at the abbey gate on your chosen date to stuff away your prize.

That sense of adventure and the thought that very few people in the world have had the pleasure of tasting this beer have driven Westie 12 to cult stardom.

“Everyone brings up Westie 12 when looking for a whale beer,” says Zach Mack, owner of ABC Beer Co., a highly-regarded craft beer store and shop in the East Village in Manhattan, NY. (White whale or whale is the lingo used to describe a rare beer.) “It’s seared into our memories as the original rare beer. But, it’s almost like the term rare doesn’t mean the same thing it used to. What does rare mean [anymore]?”

What Counts As a Rare Beer?

Photo: Reddit
Photo: Reddit

The world of craft beer has changed drastically over the past 10 years, especially in America, a country whose craft beer revolution has spawned a unique culture that likes to curate and collect.

The greatest secret of all is that the traditional, hard-to-find “rare beers” might not really be considered rare anymore. The term itself is evolving, often interchangeable with words like hyped, making way for a new breed of sought after cult favorites.

So, are we asking the wrong question? Maybe we shouldn’t be asking what is the rarest beer in the world, but what truly makes a beer rare? What makes a beer hype? And, what is the difference between the two?

Traditionally rare beer has been defined by three different attributes. 1) Difficulty to produce. 2) Quantity produced. and 3) Availability. (Notice something missing? What about quality? We’ll get to that a bit later.)

In Westie’s case, the Trappist monks have hit two out of the trifecta. They produce such a small quantity that its scarce availability turned it into a rare beer.

“The idea that something is rare means it’s hard to come by because of a limited production of it,” says Mack. “It’s this structured constructive rareness that bleeds into generating demand for it. Westie 12 or any of these beers from out of the country make up for a bulk of these white whales because they’re in such short supply. They literally create an unlimited demand just from such a small production and distribution footprint.”

Therein as the baird would say lies the rub. Has a beer like Westie 12 always been rare or did it only become rare when people started demanding it? Here in the U.S. people get excited to try beer like Russian River’s Pliny the Younger, The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, Toppling Goliath’s Kentucky Bourbon Brunch Stout, Tree House’s Julius. The list goes on. Because we know that these beers are released either in small quantities, in small areas, or only once a year.

“In 2012 rare meant [people coming into my store] from Texas and asking for a Shiner Bock,” says Mack. Why? Because Shiner Bock is unique to Texas and back then unavailable up North. Sure, traveling home to Texas just to drink your favorite state lager can’t quite be held up to par to traveling across the pond to Belgium for a once-a-week brewed Belgian Quad from Trappist monks. But, if you strip away the ornamental details the logic stays the same. X place doesn’t have Y beer, so to get Y beer in X place = rare.

7 Rarest Beer In The World

1. The Brouwerij De Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren 12 (XII)

Photo: Culture Trip
Photo: Culture Trip

The Westvleteren 12, nicknamed ‘Westy 12’ is a quadruple beer brewed in one of the 7 Trappist monasteries of the world, the St. Sixtus Abbey. The monks of the monastery have been brewing the beer with the same recipe for over six decades. Sold in unlabelled bottles, the Westy 12 is celebrated for its rich flavour with figs, raisins, dark chocolate and espresso.

With a strict rule that says only 3,800 barrels of the beer will be brewed each year, to get this exclusive brew, fans have to pre-book a limited number of order, which they then need to pick up from the abbey itself.

2. Dark Lord, the beer that has its own festival

Photo: Majamja
Photo: Majamja

The Dark Lord is brewed by the 3 Floyds Brewing company in Indiana, and is, in their words, ‘A demonic Russian-Style Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar’. Although other variations of the brew can be found all year round, this particular brew is only available on one day of the year, Dark Lord day, which is celebrated with a festival on the brewery grounds.

Beerheads will have to buy their tickets to the festival in advance and will have the chance to buy four bottles of the exclusive beer, and will have to pay a hefty $20 for each bottle.

3. Pliny the Younger

Photo: San Diego Ville
Photo: San Diego Ville

Dubbed the nephew of Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger is a brew that is extremely hard to get a hold of and will sting your wallet quite a bit. While the Elder, a double IPA brew can be found all year long, Pliny the Younger is an exclusive tripe IPA brew is released for a limited time in the beginning of February, at the Russian River brewpub in California.With triple quantity of hops with respect to a regular IPA, production of Pliny the Younger is extremely difficult and expensive, and you will see that the beer has a whopping 11 percent ABV.

4. The Heady Topper


The Heady Topper is a beer brewed by the Alchemist in Vermont. Although the exclusive double IPA brew is available all year round, The Alchemist is a small family-run brewery which only distributes the brew to the state of Vermont.

What makes this beer so special is that it is made with six different kinds of hops. Beer lovers from all over the world will travel to Vermont to get the pure taste of the different hops, mixed with hints of citrus fruits, pine and spices.

5. The Cantillon Zwanze

Photo: Orlando Weekly
Photo: Orlando Weekly

Since its first production in 2008, The Limited Edition Zwanze brew has become one of the most sought-after beers worldwide. One of the world’s most exclusive Lambics, the recipe of the Zwanze changes every year.

Brewed by the Brasserie Cantillon in Belgium, the Zwanze can be found only one day of the year, September 19th. Beer fanatics can check out the official Zwanze Day Locations to find out where the beer will be served on draft on that one special day of the year. Read more about the most exclusive Belgian Beers.

6. The Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout

Photo: Reddit
Photo: Reddit

Brewed by the Topping Goliath Brewing company, it is safe to say that the Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout is one of the most difficult beers to find, as the company only produces from 300 to 400 bottles each year. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the sales are limited to one bottle per person.

Beer fans lucky enough to have had a taste of the beer say that the brew tastes like chocolate chip pancakes, maple syrup, bourbon and espresso. Sounds like the perfect breakfast if you ask us!

The Hill FarmsteadThe Hill Farmstead is not a beer, but a brewery offering some of the most exclusive brews worldwide. Located in the Green Mountain State, Vermont, the Hill Farmstead Brewery was named the best brewery in the world in 2013, by Rate Beer.

Beerhead who have tasted some of the brewery’s beers say that one brew to try is Ann, a limited edition version of another fan favourite brew, Anna.

******READ MORE: 10 Best Breweries In The World

7. The O.W.K.

Photo: Reddit
Photo: Reddit

A beautiful story comes with the beautifully brewed beer. The founders of the Side Project Brewing company, Cory and Karen King wanted to gift their son, Owen King with the best present they could give to him (and to us!).

The beer is brewed using the brewery’s favourite recipes and then aged for 15 months in 15 year old Willet Family Estate Bourbon barrels and are then reposed on Ugandan Vanilla Beans.

Die-hard beer fans can get a taste of this once in a lifetime chance, only by visiting the Side Project Brewery on site, and the beer is limited to one bottle per person per day.

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