The monks of St. Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, Belgium, have been brewing their world famous Trappist beer for nearly 200 years — now they’re accusing a Dutch supermarket of violating their monastic rules by reselling their brew at an exorbitant markup.
According to legend, the St. Sixtus monks started brewing in the 1830s to compensate the parched laborers constructing the monastery.
For the next 2 centuries, they continued brewing for “ora et labora” — a Trappist practice of selling products to sustain religious practice and donating profits to the needy. And, by the mid-2000s, their Westvleteren XII became the #1-ranked beer on the planet in (it’s currently #2).
Humility may be a virtue, but the world wants a sip
In spite of their success, the monks choose to keep their prices low (roughly $3 per bottle), their batches small, and their distribution local.
Working at the smallest of the 11 certified Trappist breweries, the 5-monk brew-crew at St. Sixtus makes just 4k barrels of the holy happy juice annually — in stark contrast to the 100k+ churned out at Chimay, the largest member of the Trappist family.
To buy beer from the abbey, customers must reserve their case over the phone at least 60 days in advance — the monks’ line sometimes receives up to 85k calls per hour, only a fraction of which get through — and drive to the abbey to pick it up.
The devil’s in the resales
Although the abbey’s website explicitly requires that “every buyer undertakes not to sell the beer any further,” the scarcity and popularity of the beer has driven beer-blasphemers to sell it on secondary markets — often for 10x its original price.
Upon discovering this past week that Dutch supermarket Jan Linders was selling all 3 St. Sixtus beer varieties in their store, an abbey spokesman called for them to stop, saying “a price of nearly [$13] per bottle goes against the ethical standards and values… [of] the monks.”
Although the supermarket confessed to its sinful behavior, the St. Sixtus spokesman went on to say that the monks “especially hope that it will not happen again…” which we’re pretty sure is monk-speak for “step off.”