Why Are Belgian Monks Angry At This Dutch Supermarket?

Westvleteren 12 | © Juha Pätilä/Flickr
Westvleteren 12 | © Juha Pätilä/Flickr
Dutch supermarket chain Jan Linders has angered the Belgian beer-brewing monks of the Saint-Sixtus Abbey for selling beer from their Westvleteren brewery at almost five times the original price. Bottles of the hugely popular Westvleteren 12 beer were flying off the shelves at Jan Linders last week, but the monks claim the company had no permission to sell their exclusive beer.

Westvleteren is one of six Trappist breweries in Belgium. They produce three beers, a 5.8%-strong blond, an 8% ale, and the 10.2% dark Westvleteren 12, which has been voted the best beer in the world several times.

The brewer monks have been selling their Trappist beer since 1838, but getting your hands on a bottle is not that easy. Customers have to call the brewery to place an order and then collect their beer at a specified time and date. The phone line is usually busy and getting through can take time.

On arrival the monks check the customer’s car’s licence plates to verify it was really them who ordered the beer. Each individual is allowed to buy two crates of 24 beers each from the brewery every 60 days. Depending on the type of beer you buy, a crate sells for 35 to 45 euros. The receipt reads ‘Niet verder verkopen’, which means ‘Do no resell’ in Dutch.

The Saint-Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren where the monks brew their beer. © Bernt Rostad / Flickr

Last week, Jan Linders sold a total of 300 crates of Westvleteren 12, each holding 24 beers. The maximum per customer was set at two bottles at a cost of 9,95 euros per beer. All stock was sold within a day. According to an employee Culture Trip spoke to, people lined up outside the supermarkets before opening hours just to buy the Westvleteren 12.

A spokesperson for the brewery said the beer is not meant to be resold by commercial entities: ‘We found out about this through the media and are quite shocked. Our beers are only to be sold only to individuals and should only be bought from our abbey. Selling our beer in large quantities and for a marked-up price doesn’t tie in with the value and the vision of our community.’

The two parties discussed the affair last Friday, but according to the monks’ spokesperson, they did not receive an apology and have now hired a lawyer to handle the incident.

The supermarket chain refuses to disclose how it managed to get a hold of such large quantities of Westvleteren 12, but emphasises the company ‘respects the beer and had good intentions’.

Three different types of beers are produced at the Westvleteren brewery. © Guy Sie/Flickr

Belgian beer expert Jef Van den Steen explained to Belgian newspaper De Morgen how Jan Linders might have gotten hold of such a large of quantity of Westvleteren 12: ‘You find a bunch of people who live in the vicinity of the abbey and have them buy as many crates as possible.’ Van den Steen dubbs it ‘the beer mafia’.

‘People make a lot of money reselling Westvleteren 12’, he says.

The Saint-Sixtus monks have repeatedly stated that they only brew enough beer to run the monastery, and will not make more than they need to sell, regardless of demand. However, back in November 2011 Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt sold 93,000 units containing six bottles of Westvleteren 12, including two degustation glasses. The proceeds of the sale were used to finance renovations at the abbey. In 2012 this promotion was repeated with Dutch wholesale supermarket chain Sligro.