More people will have access to the Westmalle Extra, the beer that the monks in Westmalle Abbey drink themselves with meals. The marketing of the blond beer with 4.8 percent alcohol is in line with the recent advance of beers with a lower alcohol content.
In addition to the Westmalle Dubbel and Tripel, Westmalle Abbey will now also be selling the Extra to a wider audience, through beverage and catering outlets. The blond beer with a lower alcohol content is the oldest beer in the abbey, but until now was only intended for the monks. ‘With its 4.8 percent alcohol content, the Westmalle Extra can be compared to a lager, but of top fermentation,’ says Philippe Van Assche, the brewery’s general manager.
Our capacity within the abbey walls is limited, we do not want to compromise on the production of the Dubbel and the Tripel.
Beer has been brewed in Westmalle Abbey since 1836. The Dubbel and the Tripel are now classics. The Extra was only drunk by monks and their guests with meals, and later also in the café opposite the abbey. It was also sold in limited quantities – maximum one container per person – on Friday morning at the gate of the abbey.
Bus with Italians
Usually the Extra was brewed only twice a year, last year good for 440 hectoliters. But in recent years, the demand for the Extra beer at the gate has increased, which sometimes caused a nuisance. ‘One day a van with five Italians came to the abbey, who came here especially to buy our beer, one container each,’ says Van Assche. ‘To avoid people having to take a holiday, so to speak, to get to our beer, we now offer it for sale on a wider scale.’ The beer will be available through specialty liquor stores later this week and in on-trade when it reopens.
People drink more thoughtfully. A beer like the Extra proves that beer does not have to be heavy to be tasty.
According to beer sommelier Sofie Vanrafelghem, the Extra is a ‘hidden gem’, a beer with a lot of taste and body despite the low alcohol percentage. For example, the marketing of the Extra fits in with the recent increasing popularity of beers with less alcohol. ‘The mindset about alcohol has changed,’ says Vanrafelghem. ‘People drink more thoughtfully. A beer like the Extra proves that beer doesn’t have to be heavy to be tasty. ‘
The production of the Extra remains relatively small. ‘Our capacity within the abbey walls is limited, we do not want to compromise on the production of the Dubbel and the Tripel,’ says Van Assche. ‘2 percent of the capacity is reserved for the Extra, which amounts to about 2,000 hectoliters per year. That is four to five times as much as we produce today. ‘
Although less heavy beer is gaining popularity, Van Assche does not expect a rush for the Extra. In the short term, production will be limited to those 2,000 hectoliters. ‘This will not be a game changer, there is already a wide range. And as long as the beer is not in the supermarkets, it will not go that fast. ‘
The broader rollout of the Extra is also not due to economic necessity, says Van Assche. ‘Sales of the Tripel have been increasing for years, and that compensates for the sales of the Dubbel, which are slightly declining. In addition, the abbey works with a production ceiling anyway: the monks only brew beer to make a living, never for profit. ‘
According to Van Assche, the decision had already been taken for corona, but the launch of the Extra could mean something for the beverage and catering industry at the moment. ‘The pressure at the gate on Friday mornings will be taken away from us, and beer lovers can now support their local café or specialty store.’
> Since 1836, Trappist beer has been brewed by the monks of Westmalle Abbey.
> The Dubbel and the Tripel were already widely available, now the Extra – a top-fermented beer with a low alcohol percentage – is now on the market.
> Annual production: 130,000 hectoliters. 2 percent of this is from now on the Extra.
> 24 monks and 87 employees live there, 51 of whom work in the brewery.