Perry Vidalakis wants the beer community to be more aware of his Pasadena restaurant Trattoria Neapolis. He has a simple two-word plan to make that happen: Westvleteren XII.
Don’t know it? It’s a highly sought-after beer that until last December was essentially impossible to find beyond the grounds of The Abbey of St. Sixtus of Westvleteren and the adjacent cafe in Belgium. Scratch that -- it’s still largely impossible to find outside of the grounds of The Abbey of St. Sixtus of Westvleteren and the adjacent cafe in Belgium.
Yet Vidalakis secured 19 bottles when a limited amount went on sale for the first time ever in the U.S. late in 2012. Only a handful of area stores stocked it and it was gone within two hours. If it even managed to last that long, it was only because phone lines were busy. Vidalakis said he called all of them.
Westvleteren XII is considered the greatest beer in the world, although that’s largely hearsay, as few have tried it. Those who have sipped it, however, have rated it perfect. Beeradvocate, one of the go-to destinations for beer news and reviews, declared it “the so-called Holy Grail for many beer geeks” in its magazine.
Among the flavors cited were “golden syrup, blossom honey, toffee, medicinal phenols, anise, ginger, booze-soaked golden raisins, raw candied sugar and a watery, slightly fruity currant character.” Got that?
Vidalakis doesn’t have an opinion yet, as he hasn’t cracked open one of his 19 bottles. He’s busy stressing over a plan to unleash the bottles into the wild. When he let some of his customers know he had a small collection of them, they offered to buy all of them. He said no.
“It’s rare that you have the chance to have ‘the best’ of anything,” he says. “On the one hand, it’s crazy. There’s all different styles of beer and all different types of fantastic beer. In a sense, it’s crazy to say this is the best in the world. But there’s going to be a strong demand and disappointed people. We’ll have to use our best customer service skills. We only have this many bottles.”
When Westvleteren XII made a rare appearance in the U.S. in December, it did so in gift packs that sold for $85 a pop. They sold solely to raise money for repairs and construction at the Abbey. Each one contained six 11.2 fluid ounce bottles and two goblets. Retailers were instructed not to split them up and sell them individually. Empty boxes have cropped up on EBay with some asking $50 just for the containers.
Vidalakis didn’t reveal a price for a bottle of Westvleteren XII at Trattoria Neapolis, but he expects to sell it for somewhere around $55 a bottle. Tentatively, his plan is to release three bottles per week, making them available each Monday. They cannot be reserved ahead of time.
“Then you’ll get into situations where it will all get reserved in one day,” he says. “I think it’s best to spread it out over time and they have to buy it on the spot. We talked about allowing people to pre-reserve, but this seems like a better way to allow a broader range of people.”
Vidalakis, who said his allotment could begin rolling out as early as next week, knows there will be complaints in whatever release plan he concocts. It’s familiar territory for beer bars, as many have long dealt with lines around the block for a sample of, say, Pliny the Younger. Some, such as Beachwood BBQ in Long Beach and Seal Beach, do a charity auction for one of its pints of the Russian River Imperial IPA.
Vidalakis said he is open to tinkering with the weekly release plan if it doesn’t work, but the goal is to simply have fun with it.
“If you told me you had the best peanut in the world, I’d be intrigued,” Vidalakis said “Just the idea is intriguing. But that’s the thing that’s great about beer. It is more affordable. If it ends up selling for somewhere around $55, a reasonably broad range of people could afford that. If you were selling the best wine in the world, it’d be tens of thousands of dollars per bottle.”
Westvleteren XII aside, Trattoria Neapolis has a very real goal of having craft beer associated with Italian restaurants. Italy, of course, is well-known for its wine, but the country also has a rather respected and experimental craft beer market.
Vidalakis carries some of the better ones, including the Baladin Nora, a spiced, Egyptian-inspired beer. Restaurants like his, and La Birreria at Eataly N.Y., are expanding the audience for Italian craft beer.
“Italy doesn’t have the brewing traditions that Germany, Austria and Belgium do,” he said. “As a result, the Italians are less tradition bound. Like the Americans, they’re more creative to do less conventional things with brewing."