Another Trappist Beer Coming Soon to a Bar Near You?

Image credit: Mark Lampert

Maybe. You see, my wife alerted me to this story on NPR about needy Cistercian monks exporting beer to pay for building repairs. But she quickly followed it up with, “there’s none sold in Tennessee.”

Figures.  Teri Schultz shares the story.

The Trappist monks who brew Westvleteren beer are exporting only enough of it to raise money to make renovations to their abbey in western Belgium.

The 12th day of the 12th month of 2012 is not a day of deliverance but of delivery for devout American fans of Westvleteren 12, brewed by the reclusive Belgian monks at St. Sixtus Abbey.

The celebrated beer — often called the best in the world — is usually only available for sale at the abbey, located in the Belgian countryside. But starting Wednesday, buyers in the U.S. and other countries can purchase the beer at select retailers for $84.99 for six bottles.

Why this sudden blessing for beer lovers? The abbey happened to need an expensive renovation recently. But its 21 monks live an austere life — which means, among other things, that they purposely lack cash reserves. So the monks reluctantly made the decision to export small amounts of the precious nectar overseas for the first time.

And, says Mark Bode, the longtime spokesman for the Westvleteren Brewery, “I think it will be the last.” Bode is one of very few people privy to the monks’ views, as no visitors are allowed inside the abbey.

“They say, ‘We are monks, we don’t want to be too commercial. We needed some money to help us buy the new abbey and that’s it,’ ” Bode explains. “Back to normal again.”

At the abbey in western Belgium’s countryside, “normal” entails a life entirely focused on prayer. The monks rise at 3 a.m. to start the first of seven prayer sessions per day. In between, they busy themselves in the kitchen and the garden, and with tasks like painting — and brewing.

The monks have brewed the same amount of beer every year since 1945 — about 3,800 U.S. barrels, just the amount needed to sustain the abbey. Sales of the beer are tightly controlled.

The resulting scarcity created demand on a regional scale, even before beer websites started an international craze by giving Westvleteren’s beers a stellar taste rating.

In the brewery’s cafe, beer connoisseur Andrew Stroehlein, who has blogged his way through an estimated 500 Belgian varieties, says he went through, well, hell and high water to get some Westvleteren.

“You call the number over a series of days, weeks, months and nobody answers,” he says, recounting how he tried to contact the abbey’s beer shop. “Then finally somebody does answer. They tell you when you can come; they tell you what beer you can buy; they tell you how much you’re gonna pay. And if you don’t like it, then God be with you.”

Read/listen to the rest.

Which makes me wonder where I’ll have to go, and what I’ll have to do, to bring some of this beer closer to home. Beer Advocate rates it a perfect score of 100. Even if a six-pack goes for $85.00, the monks’ roof must be repaired, folks.

Hmmm…this situation sounds familiar.

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Where is the nearest distributor for this beer again? ;)

  • http://www.merchantduvin.com Jhon Gilroy

    Frank, Thanks for the nice article on the once in a lifetime offering of beer from Westvleteren to the US. There are currenlty six Trappist monasteries that make their beers available in the U.S. Our Seattle-area based importing company, Merchant du Vin, is blessed to act as the agents for three of them: Orval, Westmalle and Rochefort. We strive to spread the limited quanitites that are available for export available across the country. Perhaps you would like to do a story on the larger picture of Trappist brewing history. As they are all part of the Internationl Trappist Association, they do contribute greatly to charitable endeavours, and support one another as well. Cheers! Jhon Gilroy, NW Regional Manager for Merchant du Vin Specialty European Beer Importers.

    • Frank Weathers

      Thanks Jhon. Good news! Using the store finder, tt looks like some Rochefort and Westmalle is in my future. Money saved on gasoline can go to better beer. :)

  • David Divad

    Westvleteren is The best beer I ever tried.. Full of flavour, has a roasty floral aftertaste… It feels full in mouth and has some caramel flavours in the palate.. If this can help the ones who would like to try the beer, have a look on :

    http://www.westvleterenshop.com ..

    I had a great experience there, and found out the best prices.. Good luck

  • james

    i think it’s an overpriced beer, you might get a bottle of sint bernardus abt 12, close enough. i bought me once a sixpack with http://www.westvleterenbeers.com to compare with the bernardus and for me it was hard to tell the difference, so…


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