Most of you reading this know that I’m an Englishman who has lived in the USA since 2000. Obviously I’ve had access to a lot of Belgian beer over my lifetime, both from when I lived in the UK, and via my multiple visits to Belgium, but living in America presents a whole new set of problems for the Belgian beer lover.
Access to Belgian beer in the USA has ebbed and flowed a lot in 20+ years that I’ve lived here. Sometimes it’s been basically non-existent (for example, prior to 2004 in Georgia), sometimes it’s been great (just after popping the cap in 2004 in Georgia when oodles of Cantillon Fou’ Foune sat on shelves and there was an abundance of Belgians available all over the east coast), but most of the time some degree of effort has been required to acquire the best Belgium has to offer. The variation of availability has a number of factors associated with it, not least of which being location. The most recent state of things in the US as whole has been horribly influenced by the general state of contemporary US brewing as it pertains to imported beer. As you can read in that post the unthinkable has actually happened here in North East Indiana, where Westmalle and Rochefort have recently been dropped by the local distributor. This is a horrible situation.
Anyway, the variable availability coupled with COVID, sent me back into the business of buying directly from Belgium. I’ve done multiple shipments, via multiple vendors over the course of the last three years, but in this post I wanted to summarize the most recent wave, and to give you a few comparisons and updates on the beer and the service that one might expect when going the direct shipping route.
There are several vendors out there based in both Belgium and the US, and if you want the full range of products you’re going to have to use them all at some point or another. I suppose that’s good since it spreads the wealth and invites competition. There absolutely are preferred vendors in terms of service, shipping and communication, BUT because the beer selection is not evenly spread across them, it’s always going to be a ‘mix and match’ situation to get what you want.
The first issue you’re going to have to deal with is, ‘Do they ship to you?’. Obviously in terms of the Belgian merchants that probably means, “Do they ship to the USA? Some do, some don’t. Within the US it means, “Do they ship to your state?”. It’s possible that there could be state by state issues from Belgium too, but in my experience that’s been much less of a problem than internally. Those of us with knowledge of beer trading/shipping from back in the day know that there is ‘an almost impossible to keep track of’ patchwork of rules, regulations, grey-areas and random yeses and nos, so you really need to check on a case by case basis at the time of placing any orders.
This post deals only with my three most recent shipments, from three different vendors. I’ve had many other shipments from other places in the last three years, and indeed some other shipments from two of the sellers mentioned below, but I wanted to make an approx. apples-to-apples comparison for three Belgian vendors for the purposes of this post.
- Order placed: 11/11/22
- Arrived: 1/6/23
- Number of days: 56 days
- Tracking/communication history: This is the second time that an email from Etre Gourmet has gone into my SPAM (my fault I suppose) that delayed the shipping. On each occasion they were out of stock on a few items and they needed to ask me about replacements. As a result of that this box wasn’t shipped until 11/25, two weeks after the order was placed. The communication and tracking weren’t great, but as noted below when the shipment comes via Belgian Post and the USPS you are basically at the mercy of a crappy tracking system where, after the initial drop off and when it gets close to delivery there’s really no record of where the box is. For example, after I knew it was on the way, I didn’t get more any information until 1/3 when I got a text saying it has processed through ISC in Chicago. Then 1/5 and 1/6 came updates of various kinds up to delivery.
- Contents: De Ranke stem glass 25 cl, Fantôme glass 25 cl x 2, 750 mL De Ranke 2022 Hop Harvest, 750 mL Fantôme Santé-25!, Westvleteren 12 x 2, Westvleteren 8, Westvleteren Blonde, Orval (2022) x 3, 330 mL Brasserie Des Rocs Triple Imperial x 2, 330 mL Brasserie Des Rocs Grand Cru x2, 330 mL 1979 Montagnarde x 2, 330 mL De La Senne Ameriken Pis x2, De La Senne Saison Bruwer, De Ła Senne Bruxellensis Brett, 300 mL L’Ermitage HHH Triple (this was a replacement beer for Oud Beersel Bersalis Tripel that was out of stock).
- Cost: €227.87
- Other notes: Not my first shipment with them, both took a little while
- Order placed: 11/11/22
- Arrived: 12/12/22
- Number of days: 31 days
- Tracking/Communication history: Filip was very helpful, but the ability to track things accurately via the combination of the Belgian Postal Service and the USPS is very limited when compared to the private carriers. As a result, shipments tend to fall into a black hole quite quickly after the initial shipping confirmation, and you tend not to get any updates until the parcel is just about to be delivered. Not Filip’s fault, but a function of the US and Belgian postal service.
- Contents: Orval (2022) x 6, 750 mL Avec les Bons Voeux x 2, 11.2oz De Garre Tripel x 12, De Garre glass, Westvleteren Blonde, 750 mL De Garre Tripel Cuvee Prestige x 2, plus a BONUS free OMER bottle opener!
- Cost: €315.36
- Other notes: My first shipment with them, cost was high as you can see.
- Order placed: 11/26/22
- Arrived: 12/2/22
- Number of days: 6 days
- Tracking/Communication history: Via FedEx so perfect tracking, was not actually packed and shipped until 11/29, so actually took only 3 days of travel!
- Contents: 750 mL Avec les Bons Voeux, 375 mL Boon Kriek, 750 mL Brasserie de Blaugies La Moneuse Special Winter Ale, 750 mL Brut Sur Lie, 330 mL Bush Amber, 750 mL Canaster Winterscotch, 300 mL Chouffe 40, 330 mL Corsendonk Dubbel Kriek, 330 mL Gauloise Christmas, 750 mL Gouden Carolus Christmas, 330 mL Mont des Cats Trappiste, 750 mL Pere Noel, 330 mL Tynt Meadow, Westvleteren 12 x 3, plus a BONUS beer a free Oerbier!
- Cost: $208.62 which was approx. €217 at the time of purchase. Belgian Happiness calculates in US$ and subtracts Belgian VAT. On this shipment they also had a coupon.
- Other notes: Not my first shipment with them, my go to for great shipping and a good selection, this is probably where I would start as a newbie. Twice they have added bonus beers, and obviously there is absolutely no competition with shipping times. Every order has come with FedEx within a few days – remarkable.
The good news about all of these shipments is that everything arrived intact with no breakages. That is usually the case, and I think in all of the shipments that I’ve had I’ve only lost 2 or 3 bottles. On a couple of occasions the Belgian Post/USPS boxes have been battered, but any losses that have encountered have been made right by the various shippers. In that regard I think it’s relatively low-risk. The Orval you see in the shipments above has become necessary since I’ve basically purchased (and drank) just about all of the small supplies that were here locally.
There’s no way around the fact that shipping beer in from Belgium is an expensive endeavor, but for me absolutely worth every penny.
EDIT: It’s worth noting that shortly after posting this in another forum, a West Coast Belgian Beer enthuiast posted a caveat that read;
Thanks for posting this. However, it would be good to change the name to “Shipping beer from Belgium to the eastern part of the USA”. It’s very different for us on the west coast. I have also ordered from Etre and Beeronweb. Etre would not ship to the west coast unless it was DHL for a higher cost. That’s because all shipments to the west coast go through Los Angeles, which is notoriously impossible. If USPS gets a box there, it almost always goes to customs and could then be sent back to Belgium. In fact, I gambled and ordered a box from Beeronweb back in November. It just arrived in Los Angeles and, unfortunately, went to customs. Customs says it might take 6 weeks before they process it. That’s almost March. Most people say that boxes going to customs in LA will go back to Belgium, so I am not very hopeful that my de garre box (same one that you got) will ever arrive. Anyway, just wanted to make sure a bunch of Californians use your information and place orders. It’s a very different landscape out here.”