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Snap a photo of your old Westmalle glass to help create an archive

16:34 30/09/2021
The monks of Westmalle took ‘charity’ a little too far when they ordered thousands of glasses they didn’t need from any glassmaker who came calling. Now the Trappist brewer is building an archive

Staff at the famous Westmalle brewery in the town of the same name are asking people to send them a photograph of any unusual Westmalle glasses of which they might be in possession. There are reportedly hundreds of different designs produced in the brewery’s 185-year history, but it has, alas, lost track of them.

We all know that every beer in Belgium has its own glass, but there are more styles of Westmalle glasses than practically any other. That’s because Westmalle was the first speciality brewer to develop its own glass.

While the Trappist brewery sold beer at the gates of its monastery in Antwerp province in the 19th century, it decided to do business with beer suppliers in the 1920s. That put it in pubs, and it eventually decided to ask glassmakers to design a Westmalle glass.

“The monks thought that such a special beer deserved a special glass,” Manu Pauwels of the monastery told Radio 2. “They went looking for a glass producer to make one.”

The first to be made were pint glasses, the average sort of glass to be used at the time. But eventually a goblet-shaped glass was produced – the kind still used by Trappist beers today. The rest of the glass sector took notice.

Pauwels: “The other glassmakers said, ‘hey, if they can do that, so can we,’ and they came knocking at the monastery with their own goblet designs.”

Never too many beer glasses

Glass producers began to try to outdo each other to get an order from Westmalle. One might put a lot of decoration on the base, another would use fancier lettering or a different colour for the logo.

“The monks thought it was so charming that all these factories wanted to make a glass for them that they thought, ‘oh, they really did their best, we’ll order some glasses from them, too’.”

The sector was still very artisanal then, explains Pauwels, far from the industrialisation we know today. So it was impossible to copy each other’s designs. Every glass was just a little bit different.

“And the monks didn’t even need all of these glasses,” laughs Pauwels. “I have heard stories that they sometimes had 10,000 glasses just sitting in storage.”

In any case, “that’s why there are so many different kinds of glasses,” he says. “And there are some real treasures among them.”

Should you have a Westmalle glass that is different from the standard model produced today, snap a picture of it and sent it over to the monks at Westmalle. The brewery is putting together a pictorial archive.

It’s possible, though, that a collector will have the same one: Radio 2 already found a gentleman in Lier with 150 different Westmalle glasses.

 

Written by Lisa Bradshaw