... granted, you’ll still have to travel to Belgium to pick it up.
Still, this feels like a technological turning point in beer, does it not? For decades, the three styles of beer brewed by the Trappist monks of St Sixtus abbey in Westvleteren, Flanders, have been among the most highly rated examples of their styles. In particular, the monastery’s Belgian quad/Belgian dark strong ale, Westvleteren 12, has often held the title of the world’s “best beer” on various beer rating sites, although the hype is not quite what it once was, in an era dominated by barrel-aged pastry stouts. Still, anyone who has been lucky enough to sample “Westy 12,” as we have on a few occasions, knows that it’s one of the world’s tastiest and most impeccably crafted beers. The fact that the brewery is finally beginning to sell Westvleteren 12 online, as of this Tuesday, feels momentous.
The move is being made with an eye toward lessening the burden placed on the monks, who previously had to accept orders over a call-in phone system, while also cutting down on the beers’ sale on the secondary market. This, the monks will apparently do by collecting more information on the people purchasing their beer, which will allow them to fingerprint the bottles given out in each allocated purchase. If those bottles then show up on the secondary market for inflated prices, the monks will know which customer is responsible, presumably cutting off their access to beer in the future.
“The new sales system meets the needs of many Westvleteren enthusiasts,” said Brother Manu van Hecke, the abbot of the abbey, in a quote in The Guardian. “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.”
In particular, the issue of resale became a particular concern in 2018 after the members of the abbey discovered their beer was being sold via Dutch supermarket chain Jan Linders—at a small, five-times price hike. The market had presumably been acquiring the beer via mules traveling to the monastery, and then selling it at inflated prices for a steep profit. Previously, Westvleteren beer had only been sold abroad in the U.S. on a single occasion in 2012, in order to raise money for abbey repairs.
Under the new system, “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.” They’ll then be able to swing by the monastery and pick up their various cases of Westvleteren beers.
So if you thought you’d be able to get out of taking that Belgian vacation in order to grab some Westvleteren, we’re sorry. But at least you can buy them online in advance.