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Westmalle collector Leo Truyen

Impressive: the largest Westmalle collection in the world

Trappist blog post Wim Swinnen

Westmalle collector Leo Truyen

"Some chalice glasses are being offered at €1,000 each"

Impressive. We cannot think of another word to describe the contents of the former warehouse of Bierhandel Truyen in Lier. This is where the largest Westmalle collection in the world is to be found. More than a thousand objects related to the famous abbey - beer glasses, advertising signs, books, ashtrays, clocks, bottles, doodads, illuminated signs, beer mats, pocket knives, crown caps, missals, flags, beer barrels, matchboxes, labels, stone pots, wallets, posters, taps, card games, thermometers, bottle openers, sugar cubes, beer and wine mugs, postcards, aprons, T-shirts, serving platters, old invoices, photographs, drawings and paintings - are all neatly arranged and displayed here. "Someone once wanted to give 100,000 euros for it, but my collection is not for sale," says Leo Truyen (76), former head distributor of Westmalle. "If nobody from the family takes over the management from me, I will donate everything to the brothers."


After the First World War, Theodoor Vanspringel, the grandfather of Truyen's wife, went to work for a company that sold beer and other drinks. When Vanspringel started selling Westmalle is no longer known. A price list from 1926 is the oldest surviving 'piece of evidence'. In any case, the man regularly travelled for a whole day on horse-drawn carts to collect a load of 'Dubbel Bruin' containers from Westmalle. His granddaughter Christiane Vanspringel married Leo Truyen in 1968. Two years later, the latter started working at his father-in-law's beer business. In the meantime, Leo had expanded the business and the range of beers. The new job was also the start of Truyen's life's work: a collection of everything that has to do with the Westmalle brewery and abbey.


"My first piece was a beautiful chalice glass - I estimate it to be from the forties or fifties", explains Truyen, after which he quickly goes and takes the precious object out of one of the display cabinets. "You can see that not only the glass, but also the stem has been cut. The latter was later stopped in order to save money - the glass itself was also polished less. Like most of the other items in my collection, I have usually received the beer glasses - I currently own around 120 of them - for free. But today, these old Westmalle glasses are particularly sought after. There was once a bid of a thousand euros for one glass, but selling such rare and hard-to-find specimens doesn't interest me."


Ashtray of porcelain

When the Westmalle brothers decided, over twenty years ago, to work with distributors who would only sell their own beers, Leo and Christiane did not hesitate. They sold part of their business and founded Bierhandel Truyen. It was not long before they also started exporting Westmalle, first to Finland and then to the other Scandinavian countries, but also to Ireland and Poland. "One achievement that I am particularly proud of is sponsoring a Mont Blanc expedition - at the beginning of the 1990s, if I am not mistaken - where the entire mountaineering team posed at the summit with a Westmalle banner. That photo obviously gave me great pleasure."


Is there still a piece missing from Truyen's immense collection? "I have a whole cupboard full of Westmalle ashtrays, but I am still looking for a large green porcelain ashtray from the sixties or seventies. How much would I be willing to pay for it? Well, I am a rather frugal person, and it must also remain fun for me. I'm not going to pay more than a hundred euros for it. "That's not enough," Christiane predicts. "There are indeed collectors who would pay a lot more for it," agrees the other half, "but I won't lose any sleep over it. I'm also looking for some glasses, but I won't pay a thousand euros for each one.


Biggest misunderstanding

"I'm not out to make money out of my hobby. By appointment and with a group of no more than six people, anyone can come and see my collection here for free. We even treat visitors to beer and cheese, from Westmalle of course." But anyone hoping to pick up a collector's item or an original gift here will come back empty-handed. "In our warehouse in Lint I still have three hundred to four hundred double glasses and they are for sale," says Truyens.

What does the former head distributor of Westmalle think is the biggest misunderstanding of Trappist beer? "I am always surprised that people confuse a Leffe or Grimbergen with a Trappist. Many Belgians still do not seem to understand the difference between trappist and abbey beer. You often see that foreign beer lovers visiting our country know much more about our beer than the Belgians themselves. Another mistake that is sometimes made is that Westmalle Dubbel owes its dark colour to the use of roasted malt. That is not the case. The beer is brewed with pale malt, but candy sugar is added. That is the real reason why Dubbel is a brown beer. The roasted touch comes from the candy, not the malt. In all modesty, I hope to be able to contribute to the knowledge of our national heritage.


Leo Truyen, Mechelsesteenweg 24, 2500 Lier - 0495 23 75 12 - [email protected]

Wim Swinnen

We are happy to share our adventure in the Trappist world. Stay tuned for our exclusive anecdotes, facts and novelties.

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