The monks of St. Sixtus abbey are trying to prevent retail stores from buying up their stock and selling at a mark-up.
In the heart of Belgium there is a brewery which has, for the last 180 years, produced what many regard as the greatest beer in the world. Owned and operated by the 19 Trappist monks of St Sixtus Abbey, the Westvleteren Trappist brand produces just 5,000 barrels of its fine potables each year.
As each barrel yields about 500 bottles, this means the monks only produce about 2.5 million bottles per year. While this sounds like a lot, it’s hard to keep up with demand when your beer is considered the “best in the world.” This is especially impressive considering their stringent restrictions on sales.
Since its inception, the abbey has required all customers to visit their brewery in person to purchase up to two crates of 24 bottles at a time. This means that more than 52,000 people make the trek to the Belgian abbey each year, just for a chance to taste the perfected product.
The low stock has created a high demand for the beer, and has caused problems for the Trappists as retailers have started buying up the stock and presenting the brews on their own shelves at highly inflated prices. As this works against the spirit of their business, the monks are now preparing to launch a website, which they hope will keep the brew in the hands of private buyers and out of the shops.
Brother Manu van Hecke, the abbot of the St. Sixtus abbey, told the Guardian that it’s the abbey’s goal to give as many people as possible the opportunity to try their beer at the correct price. Of the website, he said:
“The new sales system meets the needs of many Westvleteren enthusiasts. We have thought long and hard about a good and customer-friendly alternative. Beer sales at the abbey will remain exclusively aimed at private customers.”
The website will allow the abbey to track beer orders, and they warn that if beer from a particular buyer is discovered to have been sold to a retailer, that buyer will be blocked from future purchases. It is expected that, after the worst offenders are weeded out, there will be much more of their stock open to private buyers.
The monks also hope that the website will ease some of the pressure from the abbey’s telephone hotline, which has attracted more than 85,000 calls an hour during peak times.
The website, expected to launch soon, will require all buyers to create a profile, along with their date of birth, address, mobile phone number, email address and the number plate of their car. Unfortunately for all those not living in Belgium, the monks will continue to require their customers to retrieve their orders in person.