It has been described as the world’s most sought-after beer. Just over 5,000 barrels are brewed annually by the 19 Trappist monks of St Sixtus abbey in Westvleteren, Flanders, and drinkers tempted by the regular appearance of its darkest brew at the top of the world rankings must travel in person and on appointment to pick up their allotted two crates.
But even the reclusive brothers are having to change with the times – to an extent. In order to stay one step ahead of those seeking to sell on their beer at steeply inflated prices, the abbey has announced it is going digital. A website has been set up where customers can order their two crates, with priority given to recent and new customers.
Drinkers will still need to come in person to the abbey’s shop nestled in Flemish farmland to pick up their purchases but they will avoid having to use a hotline that at peak times has attracted about 85,000 callers an hour.
Brother Manu van Hecke, the abbot of the St Sixtus abbey, said he was determined to ensure the Cistercian monastery maintained control after a recent incident in which their bottles were found on sale in a Dutch supermarket.
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 web store is therefore only accessible to consumers, not to professional buyers. We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to purchase Trappist Westvleteren at the correct price. Anyone who does not adhere to the sales rules and abuses the system will be denied access to the online store.”
A crate of 24 bottles of the highly prized Westvleteren 12 costs €45 direct from the abbey.
The new system, which will be launched between 10am and 11am on Tuesday, allows the monks to link bottles to buyers, should they appear on sale elsewhere.
Customers will need to create a profile leaving their date of birth, address, mobile phone number, email address and the number plate of their car.
Last year, the monks of St Sixtus, who received their first brewing licence signed by King Leopold I in 1839, expressed their disappointment when it was discovered that the Jan Linders supermarket chain, without the permission or knowledge of the abbey, had been selling three types of the renowned beer at about five times the price charged by the monks.
From 6,000 hectolitres – about 1m pints – produced annually over 42 brewing days, the monks brew three beers: a blonde that is 5.8% alcohol, and Westvleteren 8 and 12, the latter of which is regularly ranked as the best beer in the world despite its hefty 10.2% alcohol by volume.