Westmalle Extra Release

Westmalle Extra Header

Over the years it’s been our privilege to be entrusted with a handful of cases of Westmalle Extra to serve at special events. When the time has felt right we’ve even made requests to complete the trinity of Westmalle beers in our range and be allowed to import it officially. After decades of consideration the Brethren at Westmalle have decided to release Westmalle Extra commercially for the first time.

Available immediately in cases of 24x330ml bottles (NRB & RB), and will be added to the core range.

Manu Pauwels, Head of Marketing, pouring us an Extra from the tank on a previous visit

Westmalle Extra is the beer provided to the monks of the Abbey of our Lady of the Holy Heart for consumption with their meals. A top fermented 4.8% golden ale designed to be thirst-quenching, full of fruity aromas, and full bodied. Brewed only with whole cone noble hops and, unlike the Tripel and Dubbel, without any brewing sugar additions. Extra is bottled unpasteurised, and is refermented in the bottle too, to preserve the richness of all its component parts, and allow some evolution in the bottle.

This beer was previously exclusively for the monks, with lucky guests of the abbey occasionally being offered a glass, or on occasion small amounts were released for local sale. As with many other extremely rare, on site only beers, sporadic bottles have found their way outwith the abbey walls to be unscrupulously flipped in beer trades. It’s such a bizarre juxtaposition that an unadorned beer brewed for people living the most simple of lifestyles is coveted and chased after.

The commercial release of Westmalle Extra has a deep meaning for us as a company. The beers produced by the abbey have been in our portfolio since the Eighties. Reflecting on the decision to list them from the early days Ian Clay said ‘Westmalle beers stand out and if we were going to be serious about Belgian beer then Westmalle had to be in the range. Over the years we have got closer to the abbey and they have been enthusiastic to work with us to increase sales and ensure their beer is well presented and represented in the UK. It is without doubt an honour to have such great beers in our range.’

On his first visit to the Abbey Ian was invited to join the monks for lunch, including a glass of Extra. ‘It was perfect at lunchtime, refreshing, not too strong at 4.8% with plenty of flavour.’ To Ian it was immediately clear that this beer had applications to the UK market, explaining to the Commercial team that the intricacies of the duty levied on beer meant that a lower ABV trappist offering could perform extremely well. The considerations at the abbey go much further than the commercial though.

At the time it was felt that it would bring too much pressure on the production team, affecting their work/life balance, and mean extra environmental and noise pollution. So, if we really wanted it to happen, they’d have to drop one of Tripel or Dubbel. Frankly, an inconceivable notion. Thankfully, they’ve since managed to figure out a way to bring Extra in to commercial production, but remaining faithful to their principles. Additionally, they have decided to use this release to help recovery in the hospitality and off trade, and not pursue Supermarket listings for Extra.

Working with the Abbey is completely different to any conventional business. Manu has worked with the monks for 18 years. 'Working with the monks is the reason I'm still here. Although they aren’t in the daily routine, I see them very often, they come for a quick word to know what’s going on. This contact is always very inspiring as they ask very direct questions, unlike most other people. We are sometimes so caught up in our activities that we forget just why we’re doing something. They are the opposite. It’s a different way of thinking.'

Other Abbeys produce similar beers for their monks, giving rise to the style denomination of Patersbier (literally Father’s beer), or sometimes Enkel (single in Dutch) in line with the Belgian trappist nomenclature. Essentially a session ABV blonde, with a snappy bitterness. Originally some of these would have been produced from the second runnings of the mash from another beer. Other commercially available examples include: Chimay Gold, St Bernardus Extra 4, La Trappe Blond. Chimay Gold was also previously only for consumption of the monks too.

Life at the Abbey is governed by the simple edict of ‘Ora et labora’ (prayer and work). Benedictine monks view manual labour, and the successful completion of tasks, as the key to personal development and growth. This is a challenging concept to grasp for members of a capitalist society, but the labour itself is the goal, rather than the product of it. The monk’s participation in the economy is to be viewed as an act of solidarity with the community, not only through the charitable work carried out by the profits of their wares, but in the way they approach the labour of the lay people working with them. Staff are encouraged to prioritise family life, those that have children are given the time to take their children to school, and are permitted to take Friday afternoons off to be with them, all of this time paid in full.

Working with such a tight range is a rarity for brewers nowadays, with constant pursuit of innovation and radical new techniques. Considering innovation at Westmalle, Manu finds 'It’s hard for the brewers because they aren’t trying to produce anything new or invent. Their focus is on doing slightly better than the day before and this is what drives us. It’s small steps but this is one of the things that give us energy. One of the craziest ideas that we developed over the past 20 years was the launch of the 75cl bottle to celebrate the new millennium.'

Time flows in a different way within the Abbey walls. On one visit, James Clay had his car impounded from outside of his hotel the night before a visit to the Abbey. He was frantically worried about the offence caused at being a couple of hours late. But when he eventually got there, there was absolutely no drama at all. Sure, he’d missed lunch (saddening as it was the monks’ favourite day, French Fry Friday), but nobody at the Abbey was upset. Life continues, time flows around this minor inconvenience, and the monks were still extremely hospitable and happy to welcome him.

Like many of their trappist brothers, there is also a working cheese dairy and farm at the Westmalle abbey. In order to maintain as much control over the quality as possible the dairy only uses milk from the abbey farm. Another sign of the Abbey’s respect for quality, and their gentle touch on the environment around them, is that they will only run the bottling line as little as possible, as they feel that the noise from it upsets the cows. In line with the beer range, there are 3 cheeses offered by Westmalle, each designed to be everyday cheeses, and of course work perfectly with an Extra, Dubbel, or Tripel.

Our relationship with Westmalle abbey is of immense importance to us, and we're extremely proud to work alongside them to develop their brand in the UK. Manu also feels the importance of the relationship as 'For us partnerships are important, it’s not easy to persuade us to work with a new company. When we see there’s a connection and dialogue, then it’s a match made for many many years. This is exactly what we experience with James Clay and Sons. We’re convinced that you’re not just ‘beer sellers’, you bring the whole package. Teaching the backgrounds and how to discover beer. It’s so valuable to us and makes our partnership so strong. It’s great to make time for each other and visit each other (as soon as it's possible again). It’s not a matter of sales figures, it’s all in the quality and why we’re so happy to call you our partner.'

We hope you share our excitement around this auspicious occasion, and we look forward to bringing you Westmalle beers for many years to come.

Click here for our Westmalle Range